Occupy the Bible: Why Jesus is not a ‘free-marketer’

You know #OccupyWallStreet is preoccupying the conservatives when Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council feels he has make the … Continued

You know #OccupyWallStreet is preoccupying the conservatives when Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council feels he has make the convoluted argument that “Jesus was a free marketer, not an Occupier.”

LEON NEAL

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A man dressed as Jesus sits amongst other protestors holding placards on the steps of Saint Paul’s cathedral in central London on October 15, 2011.

Except, of course, Jesus was an Occupier. Jesus occupied the biggest bank in Jerusalem, calling it a “Den of Thieves.” He threw the money-changers out. “Then Jesus entered the Temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the Temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers…” (Matthew 21:12)

The Temple in Jerusalem was a powerful national treasury in Jesus time, in effect the biggest bank. The Temple got rich from collecting the temple tax from the pilgrims who came during Passover. These pilgrims would bring their monetary offerings in their own coinage, and the brokers in the Temple would “exchange” their money at a high rate of exchange. The Temple accumulated great wealth this way, and the great wealth did not sit idle. The bank lent the money it collected at very high interest rates, contributing to the tremendous poverty in Jerusalem during Jesus’ time.

Perkins relies on the Parable of the Ten Talents (Luke 19:11-27) for his ‘Jesus is a free marketer’ argument. Here’s where Perkins and I agree, actually. I also think Jesus is talking about the ‘free market’ in that parable, only, as in many of the parables, there is a reversal. A ‘the last shall be first and the first shall be last’ kind of a move that Jesus so often makes in his teaching.

Jesus employed parables as a way for the people in his time to actually think about the surprising nature of God’s justice, and what their social responsibilities might be. Jesus’ parables often expose the social inequalities of his time, and contrast them with God’s call for greater justice and mercy in the Kingdom of God.

The wealthy “nobleman” in the parable is not exactly a model citizen. Indeed, he doesn’t deny the accusation of the third servant who says, “you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” (21) Is Jesus suggesting a critique of the absentee landlord, who is only interested in maximizing his profit?

The third servant is the one who refuses to participate in the game of increasing his lord’s financial wealth at the costs of the poor. When the nobleman chastises the third servant, it is the nobleman and not the servant who is in violation of the laws of the Hebrew Bible, the laws on usury that Jesus is trying to defend. This kind of financial transaction is forbidden in the Torah. “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.” (Exodus 22:25)

One of my seminary teacher’s long ago, Frederick Herzog, from whom I learned this social justice interpretation of the Parable of the Ten Talents, called that servant a “whistle-blower.”

Jesus taught in parables to the people in the street, to the poor. Jesus was teaching to those who had been driven into poverty by unjust lending practices in his time, and his turning the tables on the nobleman, and making the third servant the real hero of the story would have been well understood by his hearers.

From the streets of Jerusalem two millennia ago to Wall Street in New York, and LaSalle Street in Chicago and throughout the world, it is the have-nots who are the beloved of God.

Occupy the Bible. Don’t believe these ‘free-market’ interpretations of Jesus of Nazareth. They are not true.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • plattitudes

    “it is the have-nots who are the beloved of God”

    Wow.

    Just wow. All throughout the Bible we read that “God is no respecter of persons” and that God loves all his children. And then you make the clam that God loves people more if they’re poor.

    Wow.

    I’ll admit, there is a strong correlation in scripture between those who are poor and those who followed Christ and the prophets, but that can usually be explained because those poor folks were humbled by their poverty. If there is an antithesis to humility, it must be pride, and many of the Occupiers seem to be very proud of their “99%” status. Without a broken heart and a contrite spirit, I doubt their poverty will commend them much.

  • marcello09

    Occupy Common Sense: Nobody knows what Jesus would do.

  • needingtothink

    I would like to dissect the arguments in this article one at a time:

    1) Argument: Jesus was an “occupier” because He drove money changers out of the temple.

    The temple was supposed to be a bank or a marketplace. It was God’s house. Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, not because enterprenuship was wrong, but because that form of it (which was born from greed) defiled God’s house, cheated God’s people, and stole from God. Let’s go ahead and quote the rest of that story from Matthew 21:12: He said to them, “Is is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.”

    2) Inferred Argument: All forms of entrepeneurship are wrong.

    Proverbs 31 teaches that a good wife is hardworking and industrious. It is not obtaining or possessing wealth that is wrong. (1 Timothy 6:17-18 – “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, bit on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…”) It is greed that is wrong. To me, it is quite easy to see greed from both ends of the political spectrum- from wealthy business owners who want to keep their wealth and from “occupiers” who want to take wealth from the wealthy. Not being thankful for what you have and wanting something you don’t have (to the point of discontentment with your current circumstances) is greed.

    3) Argument: The Parable of the Ten Talents is referring to a free market, a political system, or any sort of “social justice.”

    First, it’s a PARABLE. It’s a story used to illustrate a bigger point. The point Christ was making was that we are not to be idle but to use the talents (gifts- whether monetary or not) we’ve been given to further glorify God. I would not recommend denouncing the wealthy nobleman as he was used to personify God.

    4) Jesus’s parables were calling for greater justice and mercy in the Kingd

  • needingtothink

    Sorry that first response was supposed to be “the temple was NOT supposed to be a bank…”

  • needingtothink

    The rest of the thought:

    5) God sent His Son to live a perfect life as a human so that he could take the punishment for our sin upon himself. That punishment was a separation from God.
    6) All we need to do to obtain Christ’s gift of salvation is to acknowledge Jesus as God and repent, allowing us to establish a relationship with God.

    The ultimate reward or goal for a Christian (one who has truly accepted Christ’s gift of salvation and has a relationship with God) is not riches or heaven but being with God. Nothing is about us; it is ALL about God- about knowing God, about being with God, about being loved by God and in response loving God. “Social justice” is only significant when its goal is to demonstrate God’s love to others; even then, I wouldn’t call it justice. Justice is getting what we deserve; the only thing we, any of us, deserve is death and destruction. I much prefer mercy and grace. We are not promised comfort in life, and comfort should not be our goal. God will give us peace and joy when we trust and obey Him.

  • Carstonio

    Putting aside for a moment any of the teachings about the poor and about lending, I think it’s misguided to try to find support for any particular economic theory in anything attributed to Jesus. I doubt anyone can say with certainty what Jesus would have said about, say, ownership of the means of production. Like he was Adam Smith or Fourier or Hegel in sandals.

  • jeb_jackson

    Susan, Susan! Where are you getting your ideas? The wealthy “nobleman” in the parable is Jesus himself. Couldn’t be anyone else. The scripture says “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.” There is no clearer picture of Jesus today. Just read most of the posts daily on the Faith section. These comments are not from friends of Jesus!

  • bruce_baker

    This article makes perfect sense if God doesn’t exist, therefore, it makes no sense at all.

  • pfw51

    It would be wise of you to actually study the teachings of Jesus in depth, instead of transferring your ideology onto him based on nothing but a shallow and cursory reading of only some of his teachings. The only people who care what Jesus teaches are Christians…. you know, those of us who have spent large portions of our lives studying his words and learning to follow him. When YOU talk about Jesus, the only people who are interested enough to read what you have to say are, again, Christians. And all you’ve done is prove yourself a fool because those of us who actually care about the life and message of Christ know you have no clue as to what you’re talking about. You’re preaching to the wrong choir, lady!

  • quiensabe

    Susan. You’ve turned this thing upside down. You’ve mad good bad and bad good. Where did you get the idea the nobleman lent them money when the scripture plainly says he delivered them the talents. The third servant was lazy and fearful, not a poor downtrodden OWS, not a whistle-blower but a whiner. And all are the beloved of God not just the have-nots.

    I don’t think many are listening to you so most of us don’t run the risk of being mislead. As a representative of a seminary purporting belief in Jesus Christ you have a responsibility to deal in Biblical truth, not a perversion of it.

  • Jen06

    So Jesus thought they were Taxed Enough Already and threw out the tax collectors and he is somehow a supporter of a communist revolution?

  • Jen06

    “..Then Jesus entered the Temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the Temple…”
    =====================

    the key word here is Temple…the merchants were in a place of worship

    Jesus did not enter a market… and throw merchants out

    the merchants were thrown out of a Temple

    OWS is communist front…

    communists love to preach liberation theology…

  • koner

    LOL. This is what happens when a progressive know-nothing tries to interpret the bible. Jesus was all about helping the poor, BUT not by confiscating other people’s property. Charity must be voluntary and refrain from making people dependent as do welfare programs.
    Your understanding of bible does not exceed my understanding of the Chinese language!

  • peteruliano

    I agree Completely Jesus was an occupier infact I have joked saying that Jesus was the first occupy wallstreet. Jesus was right for what he did as are the protesters and occupiers both here and abroad. Not only is it Moraly and Spiritualy a good thing but the occupy wallstreet movement is the embodyment of what it means to be American although many will argue that also. Did Jesus not during his first sermon talk down to/about the Tax Collectors? Was this Country not founded on rebelion ? People who constantly disagree these 2 points need to open their eyes from their narrow belief system and realize Jesus was a “Rebel” my savior was a lot like me! A “Rebel” Fighting the injust System that man created.

  • peteruliano

    I agree Completely Jesus was an occupier infact I have joked saying that Jesus was the first occupy wallstreet. Jesus was right for what he did as are the protesters and occupiers both here and abroad. Not only is it Moraly and Spiritualy a good thing but the occupy wallstreet movement is the embodyment of what it means to be American although many will argue that also. Did Jesus not during his first sermon talk down to/about the Tax Collectors? Was this Country not founded on rebelion ? People who constantly disagree these 2 points need to open their eyes from their narrow belief system and realize Jesus was a “Rebel” my savior was a lot like me! A “Rebel” Fighting the injust System that man created.

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