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. farbeda

    Jesus was a liberal and a socialist. He was not a capitalist nor a neocon.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • joe

      jesus died for 100%, but to say he was part of the 1% would be missing the whole freaking point

      December 6, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  2. rustygrace

    "....While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise." SOME? Only SOME? ... "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." .... How do we know he used a free market system? And quite frankly, the free market system today doesn't just have SOME abuses taking place, and returns don't mean diligent, dedicated effort...

    December 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  3. John

    Someone needs to read Acts chap 2, verses 44-45, which describes the behavior of the very first Christians.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  4. Thomas

    It never fails to surprise me....the lengths that the Rethugs will go to in order to justify their greed. If Jesus were to read this article, he'd then kick Tony Perkins squarely in the teeth. What a revolting bunch of hogwash this piece is!

    December 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • xysea1971

      Amen! These people have no shame. They will even use Scripture to justify their greed and mendacity!

      December 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  5. Bruce

    Perkins conveniently ignores the Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), where God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich empty away. Also, the Book of Acts states quite plainly not once, but twice in the first five chapters that the earliest Christians practiced collective ownership of property.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • xysea1971

      And Jesus says, too, that 'It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter into Heaven.' Wonder how they are going to slice and dice that one to fit their greedy politics?

      December 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  6. Fred Evil

    Love it, Jesus was a 'Free Marketer'?! Like when he manufactured and then GAVE AWAY the loaves and teh fishes?
    This takes 'reaching' to a whole new level of ridiculousness!

    December 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  7. Tom Underwood

    Oh, sorry, I didn't know we were playing for cities! You mean, I actually get authority over cities! I don't think any of the disciples were encouraged to rule cities. I'm also pretty sure Jesus was symbolizing the use of the servants' talents, not their investing skills. What do you really think, Tony? Actually, I already know what you think. You think whatever suits your needs best and is most convenient.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  8. Dan

    CNN, you should be ashamed for giving this man a platform to spout off about nonsense. What does Occupy have to do with Jesus? It's not religious; it's philosophical and political. I honestly thought this was satire for the first half of it.

    And just for the record, Jesus's disciples went on to form communes after his death. I don't recall having heard of the entrepreneurial spirit of the disciples.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Eric

      Really? You ask why CNN gives him a platform for this? I suppose the "free speach" right only works for liberals right? If you don't like the article, don't freakin read it then. Give me a break......

      December 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • xysea1971

      Eric, please use common sense. It's hard to 'just not read it then' once it's been read! lol They can ignore it, possibly, but a lot of people in this country do not believe this sort of ridiculous drivel is 'newsworthy', whether they are conservative, liberal, man, woman, or whatever.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Eric

      Ironically a lot of people think the same thing about this "Occupy" movement.....

      December 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  9. joe costello

    wow. your god sounds like a dick

    December 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  10. Student

    Seriously?? When ever did Jesus choose profits over helping others, or did he not distribute freely bread and fish to the masses??? I deffinantly missed the part where their was a double transaction fee and hidden rate to go with it. If that guy really wants to call himself a christian he might want to start acting like one and care for the poor who he never seems never to have meet.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  11. Tom Paine

    ...Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN!

    This is yet another misuse of one of Jesus' parables and does not go along at all with the way Jesus taught us to pray.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  12. Rev. Kenneth R. Storck

    Tony is not theologian. Exegesis 101 will tell you that Jesus spoke in the first century when there was no free market. Parables are like 'zen wisdom' and such a literal rendition reveals Tony's lack of understanding of Scriptural interpretation. Jesus is a wisdom teacher – Hebrew zen master. Parables are meant to be heard on many levels, but Tony has misheard this one!

    This parable is about the abundant grace of the master who lavishes the talents on two servants. It is about following Christ not out of a sense of lack or scarcity, but out of abundance. It is about following Christ not out of fear, but out of faith. Trust is the issue – trust in the master. Matthew is writing to early Jewish followers of Christ and urging them to risk and trust in the abundant grace of God.

    Tony is misusing the Scripture in order to score political points with the right wing. He is simply wrong!

    December 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  13. elle

    This article is silly. Jesus trashed the temple money lenders because of corruption. It was EXACTLY civil disobedience based on economic concerns and social justice. Republicans who want to PRETEND to be Christians can't just creatively re-write things that are not convenient for them. You can accept that your lifestyle is inconsistent with what Jesus taught, but don't try to pretend that he wasn't strongly and clearly for feeding the poor and fighting corrupt powers.
    yeesh. Hypocrites.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • bill

      not to mention that in his name, the christian establishment went on to occupy governments and countries – at times under force of death and destruction.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  14. DandyStryker

    Ever hear of the Anti-Christ? That's the Republicon Party. Jesus said that the rich cannot enter heaven. He commanded them to give all their wealth to the poor. Capitalism, with its greed for personal wealth, represents everything Jesus hates.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • monica

      Oh, okay. I suppose communism is WAY better. Yes, share the wealth by taking people's private property and sharing it with others. And no, I'm not talking about mansions. Happened a lot in urban cities in Eastern Europe- cutting apartments in half and giving it to the neighbors. Ironically the big time party members lived in mansions. That's really cute.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • xysea1971

      Wow, Monica, you are way off base! No one suggested Communism. Why is it that the only other type of government a conservative can think of, besides unregulated capitalism, is communism? There's nothing in between, I guess. It has to be either this or that...yet many countries, Western countries, have hybrid systems of government that choose from the best of all the other forms and do fairly well. What Monica is doing is called 'fearmongering through use of strawmen'.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Eric


      Yeah, and how are those Western European countries doing now? Oh that's right, they are melting down too.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • xysea1971

      Actually, Eric we're all in the same bucket as them. Our capitalism didn't save us, either. So what, then?

      December 6, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Eric

      Well, if you think some type of socialist system is going to be better then think again. As long as we are all humans there will never be a perfect system but I'll take capitalism over socialism any day of the week. Ask the people of Cuba how they think about it; they aren't risking their lives trying to get to the US because Cuba is ranked one of the best places to live in the world.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • xysea1971

      Let me know what you come up with then, since capitalism isn't working, communism isn't working and socialism isn't working. Shall we resort to monarchies again?

      December 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  15. smc

    Jesus also said that people should pay their taxes, because money was not a thing of God's kingdom, but the right wingnuts will have none of that Jesus-talk. Mr. Perkins only picks and chooses what he wants to hear.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Eric

      Based on what you just said I suppose the 47% of Americans that don't pay federal income tax should start paying then correct? I mean after all that would be fair right? Isn't that what the occupy people want, what is fair?

      December 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • xysea1971

      If they make what the 53% who do pay taxes make, sure then they should pay taxes. As long as their wages are being suppressed while others rake in as much as they can in gluttony and greed, then no, they should definitely hang on to the tiny amount they've been allotted.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. Tom

    The Gospel According to Tony
    Matthew 21:12 Jesus and the Money Changers

    And Jesus went into the Temple of God, but he did not overturn the tables of the money changers or the seats of those who were selling doves, because, being a member of the Family Research Council, he did not want "to take over and trash public property" or "engage in antisocial behavior." Instead, he praised the money changers, for they were gainfully employed and good capitalists, making a tidy profit, selling not houses but small animals to people who could not really afford them.

    And then Jesus said, Behold, I want to clarify something about that parable of the talents I shared with you. For I use the imagery of money not because it it concept that people can easily understand in order to illustrate a deeper spiritual truth. I used the image of money because I believe in free market. For even though I am divine, and know that any man-made system is flawed, I now realize that abuses "are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise."

    And then Jesus said, Even though the income gap has between the rich and the poorI "reject collectivism and the mentality that has occupied America for the last few decades: that everyone gets a trophy – equal outcomes for inequitable performance." For in my kingdom, there are only winners and losers

    December 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  17. Jesus was a space alien

    I don't know about that. Jesus hung out with the poor and oppressed. He looked like them and probably smelled like them. Do you think Jesus would have been running around in a three piece Armani suit?

    December 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  18. mcrunner34

    Scripture focuses on relationship with God through Christ, not free market vs socialist. Giving people don't hold their "stuff" above Christ, they invest it (on multiple levels). Please don't try to make Jesus a free market Republican. Even though I have Republican leanings, to justify which side God roots for is unscriptual.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  19. Troy

    Guess he didn't read the rest of the New Testament – you know, the parts where Jesus says a bunch of communist things. That would be too historically correct. That's not what a revisionist mobster does.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  20. John

    This guy is right. Jesus didn't occupy. He through the money changers out of the temple.

    Is Perkins suggesting that Americans do the same?

    December 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • xysea1971

      I'd be happy to emulate Jesus on this point, alone.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
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