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. mattmchugh

    The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
    An evil soul producing holy witness
    Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
    A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
    – Shakespeare

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Rob

    Twisting Jesus into a false idol to suit your economic narrative is pathetic, low, and morally repugnant.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  3. Mike

    Who cares what Tony Perkins thinks??? He's just another right wing conservative nut who's lost touch with reality.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  4. JEN


    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Jay Faulconer

      And there, in 'all caps', is the answer to it all.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  5. Stephen

    Why does CNN continue to give print space to this amoral bigot?

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • mattmchugh

      Because the provocation makes people click on the article, generating online ad impressions, which is what they want.

      News websites don't care about minds. They care about eyeballs.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • L

      Freedom of Speech.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm |

    Can someone please point to the verse in the Bible that says that we have a right to make our living by taking advantage of those less fortunate? As a hard working professional (with a job and no credit card debt) that did primarily all my schooling (including my graduate degree) in catholic school, I couldn't find it...

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Sue

      Can't find that in scripture but Jesus had very strong words against those that didn't help the poor.
      Matthew 25:31-46
      The Sheep and the Goats
      31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
      34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
      37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
      40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
      41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
      44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

      December 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • L

      I'm sure it's not there. Not sure what your definition of taking advantage of the poor ... does that mean taking advantage of the middle class is ok?

      December 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  7. areopagan

    Tony Perkins seems to have missed the obvious logical flaw in using the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30, for those who are interested) to support his argument. He ignores the fact that this is, indeed, a parable, and treats it as a straightforward endorsement of capitalism (mind you, I think capitalism is, for the most part, a good system).

    Jesus' intended message in this parable was for his disciples to go out and use their talents (same word origin) to do good and build up God's kingdom. That certainly seems to be what OWS is trying to do, even though I think they really need greater coordination to make effective change.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  8. Louis

    Tony Perkins would do well to heed the word of Jesus and cite mathew 5-6. Only then will he know who the hypocrites are.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  9. JD

    If Mr. Perkins prefers a system that exploits millions of people throughout the world for the benefit and enrichment of a relative few, that is his choice. However, claiming that such a system would be preferred by Jesus Christ is beyond ridiculous.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Corpus Christian

      Amen! Tony Perkins should not use the Bible to support his right wing politics, but instead study the Bible to form his politics. Maybe spending some time in the Book of Amos.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  10. Jay Faulconer

    Another good Jesus quote: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” -Mathew 19:23-24 which seems to confront both ends of this madness. Yes, those who insist on being taken care of by the government need to pull themselves together and try to contribute to society instead of depend on it, and yes those multimillionaires among us need to help others through charitable contributions. I hold the line at government mandated sharing however, I have seen how the government handles money and it is lacking.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  11. David

    Shame on Mr. Perkins for creating the facade of 'Family Research' to xpress views which are neither family-friendly nor research based. And GREATER shame on CNN for giving this selfrighteous narrow-minded man a mouthpiece that some will consider legit. CNN is diggibg itself a Fox-hole.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  12. mensarino

    Give it a rest,Elmer Gantry. As though you would have any idea what another's take on this would be.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Sam'l

    Interesting that CNN chooses to publish opinion pieces by a KKK affiliated, SPLC identified, hate-group.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  14. ashrakay

    Santa Clause wasn't either.... I can't believe CNN panders to christians so blatantly. I'm surprised they don't also have a section for articles targeting people with schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Jeff

      What a triumph. When you told me of the story it dusnoed worthy of a CNN focus. I'm delighted for you and Joe that it was featured.I hope NPR pick it up for an extended interview on Talk of the Nation or another of their great programmes.Good luck.

      April 4, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  15. JB

    I'm sick of people trying to take the moral high ground by claiming what Jesus, or MLK or Gandhi would do. You aren't them, you don't know what they would do, and you're just using them to advance your position. I don't know what Jesus would think of Occupiers, but we do know what he thought of money changers.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  16. JesusSchmesus

    Evangelists should go back to predicting the end of the world and failing miserably.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  17. Outrageous!

    WHY DID CNN POST THIS RIDICULOUS Article! , come on.... almost among the ranks of Anne Coulter!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  18. scoto

    contrived nonsense

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  19. bill

    surly he is kidding. in the name of jesus, the christians became the biggest occupiers of all time – occupying governments and countries in the name of christ.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  20. Bones

    Is this for real? A leader of a conservative political organization is going to say God likes his kind better? Unreal.... and people wonder why Christianity is on the decline. It's ignorant crap like this that pushes people away. And this is the funniest line of them all "Yes, we are to "occupy," not by railing against a free market system that rewards diligence, even though it is occasionally abused." Ocassionally? Did you read that? OCCASIONALLY. Like it's an anomaly that abuses take place. This guy is whackado!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Dave22

      well said Bones

      December 6, 2011 at 4:22 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.