Dec. 12, 2011
Thanks to theologian and author Scot McKnight for linking to my recent article on CNN and to the women at Her*menutics for tweeting on it. My article was related to Jesus’ command to occupy until he returns as contrasted with the nebulous goals and demands of the Occupy movement. The text I explored was Jesus’ parable of Ten Minas from Luke 19.
At the outset, it should be stated that the provocative title, “Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier” wasn’t chosen by me or my team at FRC. CNN changed the title which was originally “Jesus: Occupy Wall Street.” CNN’s title doesn’t capture the nature of my argument, which was simply that given the Biblical affirmation of work from Genesis through Revelation, Jesus’ use of a market-based system of remuneration in this parable is instructive. Unlike some of those currently “occupying” around the nation, Jesus did not condemn the distribution of wealth based on initiative and diligence.
During my recent appearance on CNN I reiterated that parables use common activity to express a spiritual message. In this particular parable, Jesus is telling his followers that the kingdom of God they believed he was going to set up on earth was not going to happen for a while, and he goes on to give instructions on what they should do with their lives until His return. To do this he draws a parallel to certain positive functions of the business world. He says, Occupy until I return. In the Greek the term actually means be engaged in business. This positive portrayal suggests that return based on honest effort is a just outcome.
Of course, this is in no way an endorsement of unethical or illegal activity that some on Wall Street and in business have engaged in. Instead, Jesus’ parable refutes the idea that we will or should all be given the same outcomes regardless of what we do
Friday, Scot McKnight shared via Twitter:
“Read K Snodgrass, Stories with Intent. The parable has nothing to do with free enterprise but with kingdom responsibility.”
I agree with McKnight that the spiritual lesson here is primarily about kingdom responsibility. However, implicit in the parable is the idea that merit justifies greater reward a principle essential to free-market capitalism.
Where greed, graft, and abuse have distorted the marketplace and exploited the vulnerable, Christians should rightly be brokenhearted and pursue justice. Yet to advocate, however, a government system which redistributes wealth en masse as a response to the abuses of the few, would mean losing the benefits of free moral agency available in a free market. One need look no further than levels of charitable giving prevalent in America as compared to socialized Western Europe.
The way to remedy exploitation and injustice is not by destroying the free market but repairing those elements of it which need restoration. We cannot change human nature, but we can provide safeguards that restrain the excesses of human evil in the context of economic liberty – a liberty that promotes prosperity, freedom, and the health and well-being of individuals, families, and society.