Jesus Was an Occupier... of a Cross

I don't get the whole “Occupy Wall Street” deal. According to the movement's unofficial web site, the movement is a protest against “the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.”  The slogan “we are the 99%” refers to the vast concentration of wealth and therefore power and influence in the top 1% of the population. “Occupy Wall Street” began as a protest rally on Wall Street itself that quickly spread to other cities— locally we had “Occupy Norfolk,” a march that drew literally tens of people (the news said a hundred, but I think they showed the same little group from different angles). Corporate greed and high unemployment seems to be the one thing that these protesters have in common, though some of the rallies that have spread to Europe seem to be more of a place for “football hooligans” to hang out during the off season. Some have compared the OWS movement to the liberal counterpart of the Tea Party movement. I would prefer to combine the best elements of both worlds and create an “Occupy Starbucks” movement.

So why write about something that I admit that I know little about? (If I didn't, I'd never write anything!)  Well, I ran across a speech made by Jesse Jackson to an “Occupy London” crowd earlier this week in which he said, “Jesus was an Occupier, born under a death warrant, a Jew by religion, born in poverty under Roman occupation.” Besides the logical contradiction (Jackson’s statement makes Jesus an “Occupied” rather than “Occupier”), I bristled at the suggestion that Jesus would have been right in the middle of the OWS protests lending his support to the movement.

But then, I also bristle when I read Tony Perkins’ blog “Jesus Was a Free Marketer, Not an Occupier” on CNN’s BeliefNet last week. In Luke 19, Jesus tells the “Parable of the Ten Minas” (Luke's version of the parable of the talents) in which a rich man goes off to be crowned king and gives each of his ten servants a mina (about three months wage) with the command “Put this money to work…until I come back.” (Lk 19:13). Two servants do that—one making 10 minas and the other 5, and as a reward they are made governors of 10 and 5 cities. But one servant hid his in the ground and is condemned for not obeying his master (and now king). Perkins point is that Jesus' parable blesses the free market system and condemns the unproductive servant (who looks a lot like the motley OWS crowd). He writes—

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.

Jesus has the king kill all of political enemies at the end of the parable. (Lk 19:27).  Is Jesus also blessing that kind of political retaliation along with free market capitalism?  The point of the parable is that people thought that the kingdom of God was about to appear (in the form of an earthly overthrow of the Romans). Jesus is telling his disciples that they could not know when the king was coming so they'd better be busy doing His work and being ready for His return all the time. The point isn't how people will be rewarded for their work. Now there is a parable that makes that point-- "The Parable of the Workers in the Field" in Matthew 20:1-16.  There Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hires workers to work in his fields and then pays them  the same wages whether they have worked all day or only one hour. God’s free-market system is just that—FREE. Grace does means that everyone DOES get a trophy whether they deserve it or not… because none of us can deserve it.

Jesus was neither an Occupier or Free-Marketer. Jesus was Messiah. His message was "the kingdom of God has come near" (Mk 1:15) and "the kingdom of God is within you: (Lk 17:21). Jesus identified with the poor and the homeless (Matt 8:20), so He would be likely be more at home with the OWS crowd than some of them are. But Jesus was also the friend of “tax collectors and sinners” (Lk 15:1), and the tax collectors were definitely not part of the 99% economically. They were social/religious outcasts precisely because they had gotten rich through the economic oppression of the 99%.  And Jesus hobnobbed with them along with poor and homeless.  And Jesus even hobnobbed with those who were definitely the 1% of his society, guys like Simon the Pharisee who were both wealthy and influential (see Luke 7:36-50).

I don’t believe that Jesus would be part of ANY of our political, social or economic movements today— He would not be a Republican, Democrat, Tea-Partier or Occupier...  though he would be happy to hang with any of those folks if they would listen to Him.  Jesus was for people, all people. Jesus was about the breaking of the kingdom of God into the world. He was the Great Physician who had come to heal the sick... all the sick.  He was the Lamb of God who had come to lay down his life for the lost—all the lost. Jesus was too busy touching the lives of people in need to ever have time to occupy anything... except a cross.