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. Chris, Austin

    Proverbs 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

    Matthew 25:40 And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

    Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  2. steve killough

    Biggest bunch of BS I have read in a long time!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  3. Brandon

    Tony Perkins is a member of the Family Research Council, which is a lobbying organization. He's afraid of the Occupy movement because, if it becomes bigger and achieves goals like campaign finance reform, lobbying organizations like the Family Research Council will have less influence on American politics.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  4. Gene

    Dear CNN: You have over 60 pages of comments responding to Mr. Perkins assertion that Jesus was a greedy capitalist. I would very much like to see a break-down of the percentage of readers who think Perkins is an idiot vs. those who think he is right. I have my money on about 99% (go figure) who totally disagree with him.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  5. James W

    Unfortunately, this article reflects very Western views on the product of a distinctly Eastern mindset. That story specifically was a critique of societal greed. Reading the parable closely, you will witness a cruel and unjust master, obviously incongruent with the picture painted throughout the Gospels. In the Israelite (and generally Eastern) view, theirs was a limited good society. Jewish law specifically forbids investment of the sort that the two "good servants" partake in, because it was seen as essentially a form of stealing. These messages are seen more explicitly in Matthew's version of the parable (25:14-30); I'd recommend the readers of this article to read both versions completely. In fact, the recourse that the "bad servant" takes in that case, burying the money, was specifically suggested by Jewish law as an option. Furthermore, the end of the story is contrasted, in the New American Standard Translation, with "But when the Son of Man comes in his glory," clearly affirming the negativity of the preceding. The parable begins with "It is just like ," as opposed to "the kingdom of God will be like" in virtually every other parable. It is unfortunate that CNN has published someone who is poorly versed in basic Biblical scholarship, and commits a classic eisegesis.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  6. Snow


    People arguing about what a 2000yr old goat herder "might have" meant in something he "might have" said that someone "might have" written down a century after he died!

    .. and we are supposed to be living in the age of enlightenment! Ha!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  7. Viesczy

    Does this moron actually believe that Jesus, a man who was anti-establishment, would've been against the few getting over on the many? What a mooncalf! Wait, that should be understood as he BELIEVES the bibile is true!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  8. Coflyboy

    Jesus was also betrayed by his corrupted disciple.... I am sure Jesus supported THAT as well!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Snow

      Well ofcourse Cofly.. don't you know?? he forgives EEEveryone that agrees with him!

      December 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  9. Orion

    "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."

    But I counter; and do remember I am he who has breathed life and truly given life meaning to the scriptures in the way you must certainly envy: "Naked I came into this world; Naked I shall leave it."

    I do not fear your world of possessions or the lack thereof. This is why you banter with those who love this material world.

    Also you bother to speak for Jesus on behalf of men; I find your messenger/testimony status questionable and amusing. I am but a man who judges the outward appearance, I wonder how much more foolish do you appear to he who judges the heart?

    December 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  10. chicagok

    Don't vote. Don't support a candidate. Go out and destroy public parks and local businesses! Show yourself to the world as anarchist terrorists. The people of the US will begin treating these drug using anarchists like terrorists demanding that they be ousted from the country. Let them move to Venezuela where government takes over businesses, or Russia, or China! Maybe Greece or Italy, where socialism is about to completely wipe out all personal wealth! The Occupiers have the wrong message. The message should be fiscal responsibility and getting the government out of the way so that people can succeed! They should be demanding the ouster of Obama and his Super Majority supporters who destroyed the US economy!

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  11. Makarios

    Great job at eisegesis! Horrible job at exegesis :-(.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  12. jdoe

    Next thing you know he'll say that Jesus wants a capital gains tax cut.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  13. andrew

    Tony Perkins.......you have shown your complete ignorance of this parable. Study up on 1st century economics before spouting your agenda.....the reason for the 3rd servants refusal to participate is because he knew the only way such profits could have been made were through unethical forms of lending.....with extremely high interest rates.....study up on the biblical concept of 'usury' before trying to further your ultra right wing agenda. Keep telling yourself that Jesus was a Westernized, Capitalist Conservative, Patriotic Republican........but it's simply not true.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  14. BobFromPA

    What a crock of you know what! Well I have to say that he made a heck of a case that if Jesus existed he was a person, not some kind of god. What god would waste time with human economics.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  15. Al

    This guy must have been smoking something. Jesus was also not a free loader like these D.A. are.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  16. ethan

    How is this drivel on the front page of a major news organization? This is meaningless political banter distorting the Bible into the terms of rural American politics. CNN's stature should be downgraded. This is complete crap.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  17. Red Blooded

    "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." JC

    December 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  18. Sitnalta

    Jesus was executed in the most horrible way possible for blasphemy. I'm sure he would have appreciated our freedom of speech laws.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  19. some guy in New Hampshire

    How delightful to have someone among us who knows how and what Jesus would think in any given situation. Why listen to anyone else when we have Tony?

    December 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  20. Bryan in Indiana

    Anyone who remotely suggests that Christ would support the greed and excess of banks that we all know exists is simply lying to themselves and everyone else. This whole notion that everyone involved in OWS is a lazy loser with no job is a conservative attempt to delegitimize this movement because they know it's beginning to resonate with people. The Family Research Council has a clear agenda and it has nothing to do with doing Christ's work.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:26 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.