Occupy Hermeneutics

Mercy, this is why Christian Smith had to write The Bible Made Impossible.

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.

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?

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. [There was no such thing, Tony.] 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….

Instead, let’s let this parable tells what it does: use your King-appointed gifts for the kingdom of God.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Pat Pope

    Wow….I’m kinda speechless as to how he concluded this.

  • Pete Garcia

    “each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives”

    Hmm…

    http://www.snopes.com

  • nathan

    I’m sorry. This is not just a simple misunderstanding on his part. This is violence to the biblical text of the first order.

  • E.G.

    Good. Grief.

    Seriously? This is just awful.

  • J Williams

    CNN? You sure this wasn’t the Onion?

  • http://lostcoin.org John Kennedy

    …this is awful.

  • Clint W

    The King Adam Smith Gospel?

  • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

    I can see where Perkins went wrong. Luke 19.11-12 (KJV; I’ll use his translation) has it, “…He added and spake a parable, because He was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.”

    So he concludes that Jesus is the “nobleman” off to get the kingdom, and his “ten servants,” to whom he entrusted his stuff, would be us Christians. Fair enough.

    Since this is a parable, naturally we’re not meant to interpret it too literally. Jesus is no nobleman; He is the rightful king by dint of creating, then reconquering, the world. Likewise his servants are not the trustees of Jesus’s portfolio; we are sent on a mission to proclaim “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24.47) That is how we are to invest His deposit of “power from on high,” (24.49) not by making tons of money so we can give it back to the one who told us to lay up treasure in heaven.

    But this is pretty much what I’d expect of a Mammon-worshiper taking a stab at the bible.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    What’s more disturbing – that he wrote this stuff, or that CNN posted it, or that people believe it because of #1 or #2 or both? Cultural imperialism and eisegesis exemplified.

    *headdesk*

  • http://augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com/ John W Brandkamp

    I think I just got a migraine reading this.

  • Tom

    Unreal but unfortunatly not a surprise. I was at a business meeting today and when a guy found out I was a Christian, he started talking to me about the Tea Party, went on about States Rights and told me he was voting for Newt. I was speachless. It was a business meeting or I would have told him what I think.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Wow, sounds right. [Who was that masked man!]

  • Randy

    This particular parable is rather tricky anyway, and people always think they understand it. Notice, the last servant that only hid the talent is cast out where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. I don’t believe the “talent” is an ability. I believe it is the gospel, and either you appropriate it to your life and it bears fruit or you don’t. And if you don’t, the consequence is being out of the kingdom.
    If we make the talents equate to abilities, then I guess we’re saying if you don’t “invest” your Christianity right, you’re going to hell.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Let’s face it, one thing is clear, Jesus did not leave us with a social order to follow. We need to infer that for our times, via his way.

  • RJS

    Perkins fits rather well into the series I just concluded on the book by Stephens and Giberson.

  • TSG

    @ RJS #15

    Thomas Sowell isn’t popular, and probably labeled incorrectly, but he said this- “the vision of the anointed is at its heart a refusal…to deal with reality on reality’s terms, or even to concientiously encounter realities that are a challenge to that vision or are unpleasant”. That description fits Tony Perkins to a T. Unfortunate that so many have the “vision of the annointed” in the Church, and not the vision of the Anointed One. It is so sad that one has to emphasize that their is only one One.

  • Jason Lee

    Some people grab and use any religious tool they possibly can to their own political ends. And in the short run it works because in America, there are millions of less than highly educated devout religious people with conservative political dispositions who would see no problems in Tony Perkin’s violence to the passage. It’ll sound like a “biblical insight” to them. … oh, evangelicalism … sigh.

  • kent

    It is interesting that there are such sharp reactions to this piece. This is Mr. Perkins opinion, his “interpretation” of the text. He has approached Scripture the same way others have in support of the Occupy movement, his conclusion are just different. Rather than engage this piece, many have choosen to just dismiss it.

    I admit I do not get why camping out in a park moves an issue forward, but I am not one who understands many public demonstrations as being effective to accomplish a goal. But why is Mr. Perkins wrong, why are his conclusions mistaken? Rather than throw your hands up in disgust, engage him.

    it is reactions like these that leave me with little hope that we will ever find solutions to the problems that surround us.

  • Richard

    @18

    “He has approached Scripture the same way others have in support of the Occupy movement, his conclusion are just different. ”

    I guess I missed the part where the OWS Movement was claiming that they were the fulfillment of Scripture and what they were doing was driven by the Gospel….

  • Simon

    Wow – why is it that people like to take any person of power or authority in a parable and think that the narrative character must correspond to God/Jesus in the interpretation? And in this case why do people associate themselves with the first and second slaves?

    For a really intersting take on this parable try Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s session at the Wheaton conference last year in honour of NT Wright. It even starts with a Phil Ochs song!

    http://www.wheaton.edu/WETN/All-Media/Lectures-and-Conferences/Wheaton%20Theology%20Conference?page=3

  • Rick

    Archbishop Rowan Williams is saying Jesus may have joined the OWS movement (or at least the one at St. Paul’s in London). His hermeneutics are….interesting:

    “Faced with what looks like a simple challenge about whether you pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not, he famously shrugs it off, saying, ‘Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give God what belongs to God.’ In other words: don’t just imitate me: think. What’s the exact point at which paying taxes to the Empire gets in the way of serving God? What’s the exact point at which involvement in the ‘empire’ of capitalist economy compromises you fatally?”

    http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2270/archbishop-asks-what-would-jesus-do-in-christmas-issue-of-radio-times

  • DLS

    “He has approached Scripture the same way others have in support of the Occupy movement, his conclusion are just different.

    – I’d replace “Occupy movement” with Jim Wallis, Rowan Williams et al, but good point nonetheless.

  • DLS

    actually, now that I re-read it, it makes sense as you wrote is, as you say “others have in support of OWS…” That includes the people I mentioned.

  • http://aaronofdenver.blogspot.com Aaron

    I posted a detailed response to Tony’s article yesterday that can be found here: http://aaronofdenver.blogspot.com/2011/12/occupy-wall-street-and-tony-perkins.html

  • Steve

    There really needs to be a way to post the “Facepalm” picture in response to this.

  • Nathan C

    Richard #19, in the “Biblical vs. Deistic Economics” post just yesterday, the quoted material straightforwardly equated OWS ideas about wealth redistribution with Jubilee, and nobody really called the author on it.

    By and large, people tend to be most outraged by this sort of stuff when their political enemies do it.

  • Richard

    @ 26

    My original point was based off a misreading of his comment. I thought he was referring to the OWS Movement itself claiming such things. I agree that religious leaders that agree with its goals have brought Scripture to bear.

    However, Jubilee was a very clearly commanded (and seemingly ignored) “wealth redistribution” plan through the forgiveness of all debts, not someone’s misguided opinion/literalistic interpretation of a parable as an instruction manual for economic exchange.

    Does anyone else find it ironic that its the conservative side wanting to appeal to the relativistic stance of “all opinions of what the text means are equally valid”?

  • Fish

    I just saw this on facebook:

    Occupy Advent Prayer and Protest
    Here’s a copy of my Occupy Advent Prayer and Statement of Support for Occupy Wall Street, delivered as a Call and Response at Zuccotti Park on December 4, 2011 for the Second Sunday in Advent:
    Communities of Shalom
    is a network of community development sites—
    known as Shalom Zones—scattered across the country.
    We are here today to Occupy with Faith
    in direct solidarity with OWS
    because we share your frustration with the System–
    which the Bible calls “Principalities and Powers…”
    at work in the world
    We are here today because we agree with you:
    that our democracy has been coopted and corrupted,
    that the few are enriched at the expense of the many,
    that greed is wrong, and selfishness is sin.
    We are here today—occupiers and allies—together proclaiming
    that a new world is possible, a new world is coming, a new world of Shalom!
    Occupy Advent
    is about being willing and waiting,
    waiting and working,
    watching and praying,
    for the coming Change,
    the pending Shift,
    the sure Turning,
    and long-Dawning
    of the Age of the Spirit
    Advent is a time of new Beginnings
    hoping and praying
    working and waiting
    for the Change that must come,
    so that the scripture might be fulfilled:
    “those that gathered much did not gather too much,
    and those who gathered little did not gather too little,
    so all may have what they need.” (Exo 16:18)
    “How long, O Lord, how long?
    How long must we wait for the the world to Turn?
    For the Shift to take hold and the Wrong made right?
    How long, O Lord, how long?
    For the valleys to be exalted and the mountains brought low?
    How long, O Lord, how long?
    Will the wicked prosper and the poor live in despair?
    “How long?–Not long!” I hear the prophet Martin say:
    because “the arc of the moral universe is long,
    but it bends toward justice.”
    For thus it is written, and thus is shall be:
    On the mountain of greed
    ON THE MOUNTAIN OF GREED
    From the ashes of despair
    FROM THE ASHES OF DESPAIR
    In the chaos of these times
    IN THE CHAOS OF THESE TIMES
    Will arise
    WILL ARISE
    New communities of hope and faith
    NEW COMMUNITIES OF HOPE AND FAITH
    New communities of love and daring
    NEW COMMUNITIES OF LOVE AND DARING
    New communities of God’s Shalom
    NEW COMMUNITIES OF GOD’S SHALOM
    AMEN.

  • Nathan C

    Richard #27, I don’t see anyone arguing that “all opinions of what the text means are equally valid.” Certainly I’m not. And I’m not really interested in flacking for or against OWS.

    You’re upset that I’ve implied that it might be difficult to go directly from Jubilee to, say, forgiveness of student loan debt. If we were discussing the death penalty, would you applaud me for introducing qualifications about how “one has to be careful about thinking levitical laws are for today?” Maybe. (I don’t know you, of course, so maybe not.) And maybe vice-versa for someone else.

    The same arguments get deployed, but for differing causes. And it’s outrageous eisegesis when they do it and a prophetic witness when we do it. People are very good at baptizing their social and political causes.

  • Richard

    @ 29

    Not upset, just don’t see a parallel between co-opting a parable to justify our modern economic state as opposed to adopting the principle of Jubilee (debt forgiveness) for the contemporary instance of calling for forgiveness of students loan debt. I’m not a huge advocate of forgiving the student loan debt (not unless we were thinking of ways to get rid of debt in our society altogether) but I do think it would be a massive stimulus boon to consumer spending. There are a lot of folks in their 20s and 30s that would be purchasing cars, homes, and consumer goods at an increased rate if that 20-100K student loan debt was hanging on their credit report.