My Take: Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier
A protester camps out at St. Paul's Cathedral last month in London. Tony Perkins says Jesus had a different view of "occupy."
December 6th, 2011
12:10 PM ET

My Take: Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier

Editor's note: Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council in Washington.

By Tony Perkins, Special to CNN

(CNN) - One of the last instructions Jesus gave his disciples was "Occupy till I come."

As Jesus was about to enter Jerusalem for the last time, just before his crucifixion, he was keenly aware that his disciples greatly desired and even anticipated that the kingdom of God was going to be established immediately on the earth.

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As a way to break the news that it wasn't going to happen in the manner and with the timing they expected, Jesus pulled them aside and gave them instructions by way of a parable.

The primary purpose of the parable, which appears in the Gospel of Luke, was to make clear to his disciples that the kingdom of God would not be physically established on the earth for some time and that, until then, they were being entrusted with certain responsibilities.

Jesus, depicted as a ruler in the story, would have to leave for a while as he traveled to a faraway place to receive authority to reign over the kingdom. In his absence, the disciples - depicted as servants - were to "occupy" until he returned.

Here's the direct quote from Luke: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each (a mina today would be worth around $225), and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, King James Version)

But just what does Jesus' order to occupy mean? Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has? Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?

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No, the Greek term behind the old English translation literally means "be occupied with business." As with all parables, Jesus uses a common activity such as fishing or farming to provide a word picture with a deeper spiritual meaning.

From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy. Jesus gave equal responsibility and opportunity to each of his 10 servants.

The fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable should not be overlooked. When the nobleman returns, after being established as king - a stand-in for Jesus - he calls all his servants together to see what they had accomplished in his absence.

The first servant reports a nice profit: 10 minas. While the story lacks specifics on whether he invested the money in a herd of sheep or a hedge fund, we do know that he made his gain by engaging in business transactions of some sort. He used a free market system to bring a tenfold return on investment. No doubt such a return took a lot of diligent, dedicated effort.

The newly established king praises the servant and gives him a reward that's an even greater return on his efforts, "because you have been faithful in very little I will give you authority over ten cities."

Likewise the second servant in the story, who had turned his one mina into five, is praised and rewarded with greater responsibilities: He is given five cities.

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The third servant in the story had apparently either slept through his economics course or was just indifferent to the work delegated to him.

He had essentially kept the capital entrusted to him under his mattress for safekeeping.

When called to give an account of what he had accomplished, the man immediately attempts to shift the focus off his failure with excuses of how unfair the boss was because he was always trying to get more than he deserved for his money.

The employee review is immediate and intense: "Out of your own mouth will I judge you, you wicked servant." The king's disappointment and frustration are nearly palpable. "Why didn't you at least put the money in the bank and draw interest?" the king inquires.

While such language might prompt an HR complaint today, its meaning was quite clear to the disciples. There are no excuses for doing nothing.

Parables generally have a twist near the end, a final jolt to drive the point home. This one is no exception. The ruler orders that the capital, or opportunity, given to the lazy servant be taken from him and given to the most productive servant. "To everyone who has, more shall be given," the Bible reads, "but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away."

Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy - equal outcomes for inequitable performance. There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.

Some would argue that such an approach encourages abuses, the likes of which we have seen on Wall Street. While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise.

The parable of the king and the servants endorses the principles of business and the free market when properly employed.

Remember, these servants were not working for themselves, but under the constraints of their lord and for his benefit. Likewise our free market system works when bridled by morality. Not arbitrary morality that changes with political parties, but transcendent moral principles.

Yes, we are to "occupy," not by railing against a free market system that rewards diligence, even though it is occasionally abused. Rather we are to occupy by  using that system ethically as a means to advance the interests of the one we serve.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tony Perkins.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Economy • Jesus • Opinion

soundoff (3,372 Responses)
  1. Jon in Rochester

    Tony Perkins is full of it. The Family Research Council is nothing but a right wing religious fundamentalist group. I bet he thinks that Jesus would approve of the Tea Party though. What a joke!!!

    This is the same man that thinks if a grown man wrestles and showers with his son, that it will prevent the child from being gay. That's the kind of "research" his group does!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  2. Unit34AHunter

    Perkins and the utterly immoral cowards at the FRC seem to have confused "Jesus" of the Bible with "Supply Side Jesus."

    December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  3. tom-ay

    didn't the lord say give all your money to the poor? yes all the family research council wants to do is give money to anti-mariiage-equality initiatives... Jesus never said anything about marriage equality, neither for nor against, yet rather than helping those in need to instill fear and hatried and seperate people.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  4. Bry

    Jesus is a fairy tale surrounded by acts of magic starting with the immaculate conception and then the acts of walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, making a blind man see, feeding the masses and of course, ascending into heaven.

    So interesting to me how many people in history have been killed in the name of Jesus or Mohammed or God or Allah. Why would anyone align themselves with such fantasy that has such a bad record, based on magic.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  5. asdf

    Jesus my Mexican gardener does not approve of this message.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Unit34AHunter

      Jesus saves! Martinez picks it up by the net, he SHOOTS! He SCOOORES! 😉

      December 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  6. WillH85

    Another example of right-wingers twisting the Bible to suit their own purpose. Pretty sure, though, if the Bible is accurate, most of the people that think this way will be blocked from heaven due to their greed. Maybe the OWS movement could be conducted better, but these people are stranding up for the poor and if I understand Jesus at all he'd stand up for the poor as well.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • jsmith

      The American Taliban can't seem to remember the bit about the money-changers in the temple when it contradicts their world-view.

      Jesus can speak for himself – he did so, quite eloquently. He doesn't need Tony Perkins or the Family Research council to do his talking for him.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Adrian

      Yes, Jesus stood up for the poor, but he did it productively. I don't believe the author is advocating not standing up for the poor – I think's attacking the juvenile belief the occupiers possess, which is that sitting around, beating a drum, and beyond that, offering nothing much else to the cause is somehow productive and furthering the cause. If you want to stand up for the poor and make a difference, get off your butt, roll up your sleeves, and actively work to make change happen. If you're tired of the way the system works, don't just sit there and throw a temper tantrum – enter the system and fight it productively – change it from within. Ironic that many of the people participating in these occupy movements around the country have themselves not been productive members of society – and like every three-year old who doesn't like the way things have played out, even though it's fair, they're way too easily inclined to sit there and cry foul about it instead of being adults with honor and a spine who are willing to do something about it.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  7. MaryM

    Occupy (OWS) should Occupy Tony Perkins office and protest this BS he writes.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  8. Kevin

    Well, now that I know Tony Perkins from Family Research Council is against the occupy movement, and cherry-picks scripture to support his position, I know what side I'm on. This guy is a blatant hypocrite, a liar and a racist, fear-mongering , hateful bigot. I could go on. I am actually shocked that any "news" organization other than Faux, would give this tool the time of day.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. Weasley

    Yet another ultra conservative who claims to speak with God's voice. If only Tony Perkins and his followers (and yes, those who subscribe to the Family Research Council's medieval philosophy are followers) would practice Jesus' teaching more, and preach less, the world would be a better place.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  10. SC

    Way to twist the meaning of the parable. Jesus didn't endorse abusive capitalism. I'm not sure Jesus would have been an Occupier, but he definitely would not have been a champion of the 1%.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • FatSean

      Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Jesus told people to pay their taxes. This author is a crank!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  11. Siesta1000

    What a holy crock! As a Catholic baptized and educated in the Catholic School system, I could not disagree more with Tony Perkins. Of course he is a well known lobbyist and buddy of Jack Abrimoff. Jesus would not have thought too much of ripping off the government and ripping off native Americans. Mr. Perkins is a big fraud in my book. I don't know what Catechism he learned, but it is not how I learned it from the nuns at St. Georges! He'll do anything for money; very non-Christian.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  12. sippyjuice

    more hocus-pocus? This isn't news. Lets presume we can know the mind of our imaginary friend.....

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  13. Walter Weinzinger

    The author is dead wrong when he concludes that "Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy – equal outcomes for inequitable performance. " Go back and read Matthew 20:1-16. (The lord of the vineyard paid each laborer one penny, regardless of the duration of their labor.)
    What did Christ tell the rich ruler was the one thing he lacked to inherit eternal life? He told him to sell all that he had and give to the poor and to follow Him. (Luke 18:18-30)
    What kind of society did the apostles establish after Christ's resurrection? They sold their possessions, gave the money to the apostles and then everyone received according to their needs. (Read Acts 4:32-35 and Acts 2:44-45)
    The same parable that the author quotes in Luke 19 is also found in Matthew 25 where the lord calls the servant who did not increase the lord's talents (pounds, minas, etc) a "wicked and a slothful servant". That is why the lord takes the talent away and gives him no reward. What Christ would not condone is laziness and not being willing to work for one's bread. I don't see the Occupiers as being lazy and wanting a free handout. They are trying to bring attention to inequities and injustices that most of us are willing to turn a blind eye toward.
    This article is just another example of someone wresting the scriptures to his own devices and trying to justify his personal opinions, flawed as they may be, by quoting scripture. Go read the scriptures folks. Our society is moving farther and farther away from the kind of society that Christ's apostles established (short-lived as it may have been) where everyone cared about each other and worked hard and shared what they had with each other to the extent that there were no rich or poor among them! Wouldn't that be a wonderful society to be part of?!?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • jake

      I somewhat agree with your response up until the last line. Where in the Bible does it say that there were no poor among them? Jesus actually said that the poor will ALWAYS be with us. The problem isn't capitalism, it's capitalism with out a conscience and unrestrained greed. Greed that comes from seeking satisfaction in life through "things." Jesus didn't hate the rich man or the poor man, but simply commanded to love and treat your neighbors with care and respect, helping where you can. That is a far cry from Him saying give all you have away to whoever wants it. When he told the disciple's that, He was saying, following me won't be easy, you must lose everything, physically, spiritually, emotionally and give yourself 100% to the Father. Look deeper at meanings and consider the WHOLE story before and after before assuming Jesus said "Give all your money away.".....

      December 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Brian

      So well put. This man is taking the spiritual and trying to view it in secular terms. The "talents" are given to win souls. Not money. Who's face is on the coin? Well render unto Caeser what is Caeser's, but render unto God what is God's. Jesus used earthly symbols to explain heavenly things in a way they got. The talents entrusted are the Gospel and spiritual gifts, to be used for Kingdom building. If you don't use it to win souls, God will take the gifts from you. Jesus only used money as a tool for explaining things. Read about "worrying" and how God provides, not man. This is another poor argument about how the earthly system mirrors God's. There is very little of Jesus in your argument. It sounds like the old, tired Pharisee approach. They never got Jesus, and it sounds like he doesn't, either. Jesus isn't about teachings, He's alive. His Spirit is testimony of that. Divide the Word correctly, please. All that matters is the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The author should be figuring out how to win souls for Christ, not pushing his own agenda. BTW, great point in bringing up the Church of Acts. That's the result of the power of the Living Spirit of God. People's needs matter, most of all...

      December 6, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  14. ohai

    This parable, as well as all of Jesus' other parables, is about salvation, spreading the gospel, and the kingdom of God, not finance. Jesus rarely, if at all, spoke on money or politics.

    One thing we know, though, the apostles of the earliest church did indeed practice collectivism.

    "They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need." (Acts 2:45)

    "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." (Acts 4:32-35)

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • jake

      Put so much more fluently than I did....lolol....Couldn't agree more

      December 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Brian

      Here's something you forgot. Read Acts 5. Ananias and Sapphira lied and died. They had shady intentions and were false in their reporting how much they got. Their intentions were not pure, and they died. It's time to stop the charade. Don't play with the Holy Spirit.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  15. JEF

    If there is anything to know about Jesus, he began to gain notoriety by dereliction and disrupting the status quo. To think Jesus would look out for the 1% over the 99% is quite sad. How did this get on the front page of CNN.com??????

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  16. mason

    Jesus was a radical of his time... against the Roman occupiers (the 1%) at the time, and for equality and justice. When/if he were to come back, he'd come back as a member of the most marginalized group possible to remind all of us we have a seat at the table of heaven.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  17. Gannt

    This article is brought to you by CNN (but they claim it isn't).

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Athena

    Dear Mr. Perkins, I read with amusement your satirical piece on Jesus the Capitalist. It was very entertaining. I especially appreciated your wit in avoiding the story of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple. That story, which clearly and exactly demonstrates Jesus' abhorrence of the conflation of religion with money, would have soured your delightfully humorous piece. I also enjoyed the clever way you willfully misinterpreted the parable of the nobleman and his servants as a direct mandate rather than a parable. That you so skillfully under represent the Teacher as unable to speak on a higher level (mina=our God-given gifts and talents) while gently guiding his disciples with every day language and examples (an employer giving his employees money to invest) is a testament to your abilities as a Biblical scholar and writer. But while we are on the parable of the nobleman let me deviate from the spirit of humor that you evidently used to write this piece and say, in seriousness, that the Occupiers do in fact seem to have used their God-given gifts in a way that perhaps has pleased God since they have started in one city, and in a sense, gained "authority in [more than] ten cities". Thanks again for the laugh!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  19. Michael

    Just to point out the obvious: parables are analogies. The nobleman's investment is an analogy to faith. To argue that this parable is really about money and investing and the market is like arguing that the parable of the mustard seed is really about mustard, or the parable of the fig tree really about figs, or that the parable about the friend at night is not about prayer and keeping the faith but really is just about to find you friend at night. I wish it weren't necessary to point out the obvious like this, but apparently it is.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  20. Dan

    Jesus said love your brother as yourself was his greatest command and go spread the truth about him he never said anything about free markets, oh and Remember he threw the free market people out of the church remember he never belive in greedas you do, he belive in things being equal for all people not just some watch for some lighting buddy god does not like his son use this way

    December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.