Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Occupy the Bible League [Part 1]

I, Dr. Watson, having recently called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes, found him relaxing on his sofa in the confines of his Baker Street apartment. He was smoking his pipe holding a cup of fresh hot coffee and it was apparent he had spent the night working on some puzzling challenge as deduced by the empty cans of Red Bull that surrounded him. Open before him lay many large books and a copy of the Washington Post lay strewn about.

“So good of you to join me” he called out as the aforementioned newspaper came flying in my general direction. “What do you make of that article?” he asked.


Grabbing the paper I dropped into one of the high back chairs next to the fire place and found the article that Holmes had circled in the Guest Voices section.

The article was titled “Occupy the Bible:Why Jesus is not a ‘free-marketer’”. The writer was Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite a former President at the Chicago Theological Seminary and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

She had written earlier articles about the OWS – citing the protests as a “witness against corporate greed and economic injustice” and that the movement was all about the “inequality stupid”. Being a teacher at a seminary she was also known to draw on Scriptures to support her views. One memorable quote:

You know, “stealing from the poor to give to the rich” isn’t good for the rich either. Jesus asks us to consider not only the effects of drastic income inequality on the 99 percent, but also what it does to the 1percent to create such inequality. “What does it profit you,” he asked, “if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Turning my attention to the article at hand I read through it with great interest. “Interesting”, I mused scanning back through the article a second time. “Two people are looking at the same parable taught by Jesus yet they are coming to very different conclusions regarding Jesus’ view on economics. It is most befuddling. Why right here it says:”

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.

“What else do you observe?” questioned Holmes as he sat there amused at my attempts to emulate his approach to solving problems.

“Our author claims that the nobleman in the parable is the perpetrator of a good many wrongs – if not against the laws of the nation than certainly against the laws of God and his fellow man. Among his crimes he seems to indeed be a harsh man, as the third servant claims, because he is demanding profits from his servants and defrauding the poor. This character – the third servant – he is the true hero of the story, why here she goes on:”

 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.

“Certainly the author is exhorting us to obey Jesus such that all of us would seek to emulate the third servant. Now, being in regular attendance at church on Sunday, well I do know that Jesus often taught that the ‘last shall be first’, so clearly our author must be right in drawing the conclusion about the third servant being the hero. Clearly the last is he, for he has the least money in the story and is completely disregarded by the nobleman. He also shows tremendous courage in standing up to this man and refusing to take part in his crimes. Certainly it is he who will be elevated by Jesus to be first. However I must admit that have never seen that in this parable before.”

“You do amaze me, Watson. You see so much”, gushed Holmes. “Now what do you make of all that?”

“Well, clearly her conclusion seems warranted. Jesus would have supported the Occupy Wall Street movement. For I also do rightly remember do I not that Jesus was indeed a friend to the poor. So as the OWS movement has spread – even to our dear city of London – we must hope that their ideals of ending corporate greed and promoting social justice will indeed cause us all to Occupy the Bible and learn and put into practice these great teachings of Jesus as well.”

Holmes drawing a long sip of coffee blurted out – “My dear Watson, I have often accused you of lacking imagination. It seems I have spoken out of turn. And what do we know of this parable that is at the center of the case being made to Occupy the Bible as it were.”

“The parable of the talents”, I explained “is a story about a nobleman giving a variable amount of talents (a large unit of money = 20 years wages) to three servants. I believe in amounts of 5, 2, and 1. He entrusted them to use it well while he was away.”

“Do go on” motioned Holmes with a wave of his hand.

“Well two servants do invest well and double their money, while the third, the one with a single talent, does nothing with his. When the nobleman returns the two are commended and the third is rebuked.”

“You may be a regular attendee at church but I must first draw your attention to the fact that you have conflated two parables. The parable of the talents is found in Matthew 25 while the parable of the minas is found in Luke 19. The stories that Jesus told are very similar for indeed the premise is a nobleman who is entrusting his resources to his three servants.”

I blushed at my mistake, and attempted to make amends – “but are not these stories both told to make the same point.”

Holmes chuckled, “Precisely so. It would be hard to see it much differently given the similarities. And don’t be too hard on yourself dear friend for even a seminary president made the same mistake.”

“Catch!”, Holmes yelled as he tossed a Bible in my direction. “Turn to Luke 19 and start reading in verse 11 if you would be so kind.”

[Join us in Part 2 as Holmes and Watson continue to work through the Adventure of the Occupy the Bible League and discover the real hero of the parable]

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