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. Richard Hode

    ""be occupied with business." So that's what Jesus meant! There is a room reserved in hell for Perkins, liar and blasphemer.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  2. Zoogie

    Sorry for the long post.

    My first response to Mr. Perkins is with this question: How does his understanding of the Bible and of humanity countenance with the the various biblical passages that command us to care for the poor? The passage that comes to mind most poignantly for me is the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.

    I suspect Perkins will argue that unregulated capitalism per se does not lead to epic injustices we are witnessing today, but rather the greed of agents in the capitalistic system. To this I would disagree, capitalism rationally enacted was never designed to care for everyone and to care for the least well off by ensuring that they have the 1 mina that Perkins alludes to (i.e. the fair start in life to be successful). Perkins next move might be to claim that the poor must be cared for by charity. To that, I also respectfully disagree. For to have people rely on the kindness of others is to deny them what is their due by nature of their dignity in being human–i.e. their dignity in being made in God's likeness and image. And what is every human's due? It is the 1 mina once again.

    What the world needs, in my opinion, is a system that guarantees everyone that 1 mina. Unbridled capitalism that ruthlessly treats humans as means and that has profit as its end is not the way to ensure that everyone has the fair start that Mr. Perkins seems to think is a given.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Zoogie

      And no. I am not against capitalism. I think that capitalism must be regulated to provide for the benefit of the entirety of society and not just the 1%.

      December 7, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  3. Reality

    JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself."

    Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694

    Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

    So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would do or say? Ditto for T. Perkins!!

    December 7, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  4. Jeff

    What a completely disingenuous article.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  5. Samuel Scrumpwell

    Ah yes, the church of the sacred almighty dollar and the gospel of prosperity.

    "If there is a God, atheism must seem to Him as less of an insult than religion."
    Edmond de Goncourt

    December 7, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  6. boyamidumb

    Right dude. That's why he had a problem with the money changers.

    Come on, the man was a communist before Marx ever defined the name.

    That's why they killed him.

    Just like todays "money changers" will do the same if they feel like it.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  7. Michael Schulze

    As much as I don't like this guy and what he stands for, he's right. The fictional story of Jesus has been a justification for slavery; like it or not.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  8. Evangelical Minister

    This is one of the worst misapplications of Scripture I have ever seen.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  9. paris biltong

    I liked Tony Perkins in "Psycho" but this guy is strictly for "The Birds".

    December 7, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • Cor


      December 7, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  10. Hal

    I just love it when self-proclaimed experts on the Bible don't know the difference between Latin (occupo) and Greek (pragmateuo).

    December 7, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  11. Rhonda


    In 2010, the Family Research Council—under Perkins' leadership—was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[10][11] FRC President Tony Perkins dismissed the hate group designation as the result of a political attack by a "liberal organization" and "the left's smear campaign of conservatives".[12]

    While working as campaign manager for Louisiana state legislator Woody Jenkins in 1996, Tony Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list, and then tried to hide involvement with Duke, sending payment to Duke through a third party. The campaign was fined $3,000 for trying to hide the payment.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Cor

      Great post, Rhonda!

      December 7, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Thinkuh

      Ditto, Rhonda. Were he alive in the 1850s, Perkins would probably suggest that slaves 'occupy' themselves with the cotton picking business at hand, given that God had provided those slaves to Whites to make the land fruitful. Unbelievable this is given a national platform. Is it so that CNN can seem even-handed? Please. Find someone who can at least reason in public.

      December 7, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  12. tcaud

    Do you mean this or not? If so, you're a monster, who wants only to destroy the peace of America. It matters little, however, because you could not be more wrong, and people will perceive how wrong you are. Jesus may well have been a free marketer, but he gave his life for his fellow man. The protestors of Occupy have risked nothing less, and all because you have tried to silence them.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Eumir

      Actually they're a lazy bunch of morons.

      December 7, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Jonathan

      Wait a second....I understand Jesus gave his life for his fellow man...but the occupiers are not doing that. I am sorry, but there is not one occupier that is "giving their life" for their fellow man. These are people that are battered, tired of being ignored, and seeking a common voice. Let's not confuse that with a respected philosopher the likes of which the world has never seen before.

      December 7, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  13. Josh Ayers

    Listen. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom? Yet, you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? – James 1:5

    December 7, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  14. smdahl

    CNN (CorporateNewsNetwork) "christian" blogger Tony Perkins: "Four years ago, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), America's premier white supremacist organization, the successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke." Source: The Nation.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  15. texinyc

    The problem with the article is the implication that #1 – people at Occupy rallies are incapable and unwilling to do anything but protest. There have been many reports verifying the employment rate and education levels of Occupy groups being above average when compared to *ahem politically active protest groups. Most are well educated, hard working Americans who are upset at their every shrinking equity in this political process. And #2 – the authors assertion that Jesus was demonstrating everyone's beginning on a level playing field. Never mind that this parable within a parable is meant to parallel his incorrect opinion of America being even playing field for all. His assertion that Jesus intended this kind of statement as a Jew living in a Roman occupied Jerusalem, as well as 1800 years before America was even founded is the absolute height of the kind of idiotic fact denial and greed blinded classism that we're used to from these kind of Jesus spin doctors.
    CNN – I can appreciate different points of view other than my own. But please don't allow this kind of poorly thought out editorial piece on your site. It's insulting to all of us, Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  16. Mighty7

    What an absolutely idiotic opinion piece. Only an American right wing religious turd could post such tripe with a straight face.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:20 am |
  17. RedTeam

    I guess you can use the Bible for anything if you get paid enough.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • Reality

      Mr. Perkins is paid $200,000/yr for mouthing "christian" mumbo jumbo. guidestar.org under Family Research Council.

      December 7, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  18. unowhoitsme

    Stupid analogy.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  19. Malfean

    Thank the Almighty that this guy is only giving an OPINION...even if its flat-wrong. I seem to recall a parable about a needle...a camel... a rich man... ring any bells?

    December 7, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  20. Barking Alien

    Yet another attempt to judge what a man born 2000 yrs ago would do today. It is easy to speculate how they would have thought or reacted, however, you can't look through a man's eyes who was born 20 centuries before. Tony Perkins is a plastic religious phony.

    December 7, 2011 at 7:13 am |
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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.