Jesus did most of His teaching on earth through parables.
He taught His disciples and entire crowds of men, women, and children by telling simple, entertaining stories that illustrated deeper concepts about humanity’s relationship with God.
But are these stories still relevant today? Do the parables of Jesus offer sound principles for our modern world?
One economist, Jeffrey Tucker, believes that we can gain a solid understanding of God’s perspective on economics simply by studying these three parables of Jesus.
Tucker asserts that the parables of Christ are more important than ever, especially in the debate currently raging around capitalism vs. socialism.
Many philosophers today claim Jesus was a socialist. They use this argument to support economic systems that can accomplish great harm against citizens, entrepreneurs, and workers.
The parables in the Bible exist on two levels: storytelling terms and allegorical terms.
Every parable offers a self-contained story with elements that were familiar to Jesus’ Jewish audiences, and each parable also teaches about the relationship of humanity to God and to a life of faith.
A close reading of Christ’s parables reveals that His teaching touches on themes of property rights, economic liberty, and the free market, among others.
1. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matt. 13:44)
This is an incredibly brief story about a man who digs in a field, finds treasure, and immediately buys the field in order to possess the treasure himself.
It’s a simple story about the pursuit of God’s kingdom, but also offers some keen economic insights.
First, this parable assumes individual property rights.
Instead of going to his local government to obtain the right to dig in the field, the man in this story works to raise the necessary funds, then approaches the owner of the field on a personal level.
When the property trades hands, there’s no government intervention.
Jesus had an opportunity to subvert a capitalistic understanding of property rights and replace it with a socialistic paradigm, but He didn’t. He upheld the value of individual property rights.
Second, this parable illustrates that there’s nothing wrong with a good deal. “Information asymmetry” is the economic term for what’s happening here – the man who found the treasure knows the field’s true value, while the field’s owner is blind to it.
According to Jesus, it was acceptable — even desirable — for the man who found the treasure to pursue it in this wise economic way!
2. The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23)
This is one of Jesus’ most well-known parables. The story features a farmer who goes out to sow, throwing seeds onto rocky ground, walking paths, meadows, and fertile soil.
It’s a metaphor for the many ways that people respond to the seeds of the Gospel, but it’s also an illustration of entrepreneurship and the need for a free market.
Some businesses fail, like the seeds thrown onto rocky ground, while some businesses flourish, like the seeds thrown onto fertile soil and blossomed into a good crop that provided the farmer with a large return on his investment.
To see that end result, the farmer had to also see much failure in his sowing.
But did he stop trying to sow seeds just because four out of five of his attempts failed? Not at all! He knew that to find good soil, he needed to keep trying.
Entrepreneurs take a risk with every venture they pursue. And the only way that risk makes sense is if the entrepreneur can then reap the harvest of the small fraction of ventures that are successful.
The farmer’s experience of profit and loss taught him where to sow to achieve maximum growth.
If he had been prohibited from conducting entrepreneurial efforts, or had the harvest from the one successful seed seized by a communist or socialist government, he wouldn’t have naturally found where the seeds flourished most effectively.
3. The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30)
This is one of Jesus’ more sobering parables.
It features three servants who are given the opportunity to increase their master’s wealth. Two servants accomplish this, but the third does not, and he faces punishment for his squandering of precious resources.
Obviously, this story speaks to our spiritual gifts and the need to use them for the kingdom of God, but it also helps us realize that Jesus sees nothing inherently wrong with wealth-creation and development.
Those who are particularly gifted in the areas of business and finance do well to increase their assets and leverage the financial system — as long as they do their work for their Master, Christ, and not out of love for money.
In fact, one could even say that Jesus encourages a capitalistic, free market system in order to support the wealth-creation efforts of people around the world.
Clearly, the successful servants in this parable took full advantage of such a system to please their master.
As Christians, we are charged with using our earthly resources wisely.
We can argue, after studying these parables and more, that Jesus knows we can do this most effectively in a free market where individual property rights and capitalism are upheld.
Interested in learning more about Jesus’ parables and their economic applications?
Listen to Jeffrey Tucker’s interview on this podcast!