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. Mike

    The fact that you think the real issue here is the way occupying is being done now versus the bible 'occupying' is interesting. Why not look at Jesus' compassion for the poor and underprivileged and how he pushed for charity and giving back.It's columns like this which push people away from Christianity and lead them to believe it preaches elitism.

    Did Jesus want people to be personally responsible? Yes. But he also importantly preached equality and giving, which is the CORE issue of this movement.

    I would argue that having CEO's earn 100's times more than their employees is something Jesus did not have in mind. I might be wrong, but I think there as ample evidence to back that up.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Andrew Chelsea

      "Jesus' compassion for the poor and underprivileged"

      Dude, have you even read the Bible ever? Well some of us have, and I don't remember Jesus was ever walking around giving free money to people. That's absurd. He cared for the poor and underprivileged by teaching them truths of life and helping them to help themselves.

      Seriously dude, read the aforementioned book before you just go spouting off nonsense.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  2. Megan Sampley

    I cannot believe something like this would be published on CNN. So, not to the point of the issues at hand.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  3. BnLV

    Sick of everyone – right and left – claiming Jesus, God, the founding fathers, etc. would have been "one of them," in order to lend legitimacy to their cause.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  4. FruitsOfReasonNotReligiousNuts

    What a joke of an article.

    1) What import does Jesus have on the Occupy movement? Why bring him into the conversation at all? I certainly don't take Jesus' actions and words to have "the final say" for me. If Jesus is supposed to lend authority, and therefore validity, to the argument, the argument is woefully inadequate.

    2) The author acknowledges that "occupy" had a somewhat different connotation during that time, or at least he seems to suggest this. But to my knowledge nobody has suggested that they had the same connotation, except the author. It's a bad straw man argument–imply that they have the same import then prove that they do not. The issue was never contested to begin with.

    3) The author, by drawing the comparison between the Apostles and free market capitalists, perhaps inadvertently ignores the fact that the Apostles and those whom they converted were working towards salvation for the next life (or heaven, or whatever you want to call it). Is the author's contention that free market capitalists are working for some divine purpose, or towards any other purpose at all, by pursuing their financial success?

    4) Perhaps most disturbing, the author seems to be suggesting that we are the servants working for our lord–who the author seems to suggest are the wealthy business owners. I.e. the wealthy business owners are akin to God by his analysis, and that we should therefore zealously slave away for his benefit. What is the reward for the servants at the end of the day?

    I therefore conclude that the author has advanced a terrible, fallacious and irrelevant argument with regard to the Occupy Movement. Do moderators or supervisors read these opinion pieces before they are published?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  5. Rich

    Good ole Pat Robertson said ,and i quote,God doesn't hear the prayers of Jews or Catholics...........

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  6. Matt

    Wait a second..."Here's the direct quote from Luke: 'He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas..." So the parable starts with a government handout!!

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

      Good point!

      December 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Solex

    Jesus was a free markteter.. Really?

    When we will stop listening to people who want to speak for someone who supposedly lived 2000 years ago? I say supposedly, because other that the first four books of the New Testament, there is no such person as Jesus.

    The Romans were excellent record keepers who tracked EVERYTHING that happened in their demesnes. Do you not think there would be ONE mention of him?

    People who claim to speak for religious icons are con men. Plain and simple.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  8. Heather

    Oh this is BS! THhe occupy movment isn't about being lazy, it's quite the opposite. The Occupy movement is about working hard, and havign all yout money taken in taxes, while the wealthy don't pay their fair share of taxes! Go see what the Bible has to say about tax collectors, it isn't nice!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  9. general

    it's people like this guy that deserve a bullet through their temple

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  10. SixDegrees

    Unlike the owsers, Jesus had a job.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Patrick Williams

      And that would be?

      December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  11. I Am

    This man is an idiot!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  12. Patrick Williams

    No wonder why Christianity is so ineffective and dead in America – the very group that should be condemning the vices of greed, vain-glory, materialism and consumerism are the ones who DEFEND these things the STRONGEST! It is totally absurd!

    Christinaity looks alive on the outside in America but it is really dead and lifeless on the inside and of almost no value whatesoever to people.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  13. rich j

    so would jesus be ok with all the corruption within wallstreet and the government ?

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  14. Kirk

    Not sure Tony Perkins is someone I can trust to give a fair assessment of our Free Market system when he is making $166,923 (http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3685) at a non-profit and is clearly benefiting from the current system. It is not easy to see the other side when you are so far removed from it.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  15. Duane

    A case could be made for the argument that Jesus, his disciples and his supporters actually occupied the Temple for much of his last week on earth. Jesus spent much of his time in that last week wandering through the Temple, teaching, sharing parables, and engaging in conversation with the Temple priests, who challenged his authority and were uncomfortable with his presence. Then, of course, there was the whole money-changers event. Jesus was apparently as annoyed with those scoundrels as the OWS activists are.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  16. wmw

    Supports the notion that you can rationalize just about anything

    December 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  17. Skyler

    Wow. People still believe this crap.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  18. kcbrit

    Cute coming from the mouth of a guy who makes a living from something that doesn't exist, except in people's minds. I think these preachers are the ones who are too lazy to get a real job!!!!

    December 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Andrew Chelsea

    Thanks for the great article! Seek and you shall find; work and you'll get paid. He was clearly a free marketer, how can one argue with this after reading that parable? These misguided occupiers and their simple minds cannot seem to grasp this basic principle of life.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • DaveSD

      You and Tony Perkins are slightly misguided. If you read the New Testament a little more thoroughly, then you would now Jesus rebelled and preached against the rich Jews not giving back to the community and taking caare of the poor and downtrodden. He also preached that the meek shall inherit the earth. Both of these are central to the teachings of Jesus. It is also why priests and nuns take a vow of poverty. It is also why he was betrayed by the rich Jews who had him crucified by their Roman occupiers. Jesus would have fully supported the occupy movement.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Anita Bleaujob

      Apparently you are the simple minded one, Andrew, because these people are not asking for handouts.

      Calling you misguided would be giving you too much credit.

      December 7, 2011 at 4:50 am |
  20. Mike

    What frickin planet did this idiot come from. Talk about hearing and reading "the message" and completely destroying what was the meaning. Jesus railed against what was a staked deck against the "common people" in those times. Especially the people responsible for the religious practices in the Temple and the country. Jesus was far from a free market supporter. He knew and showed that there are always those of a self righteous nature who will manipulate and enslave all those who they can for their own benefit and not those of anyone else. The "Commandments" of God, of which there are actually over 600 of, are the "regulations" of not only living but also of doing business with one another, honestly, fairly and benefiting all. These "regulations" are exactly those which people like Tony Perkins do not want you or anyone else to know or use or be protected by. So, look back at the time of Jesus and see who wanted him tortured crucified and you will see the likeness of Tony and his group.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
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