John Steward of Jesus
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Occupy till I Come

"Occupy till I come" is so fixed in people's minds, so often quoted, so often misused for an intended political application, that I have developed an almost instinctive compulsion to add footnotes each time I hear it or read it.

This is not a quotation of Christ's words to his followers. In a parable it is a quotation of a nobleman's words to his servants. Whether it is a directive for us is a matter of interpretation. If the words do apply to us, there is more to be aware of.

The nobleman was going away to receive a kingdom and to return. If Christ has received the kingdom and returned, the instruction no longer applies. It applied "till I come".

The word translated "occupy" is used nowhere else in the New Testament. It means to be doing things, to keep busy, to be active, to be productive, in the context to engage in trade or business. The servants were not to be idle or nonproductive. They were to be busy doing the master's will and looking after his interests . Its meaning does not include the concept of taking possession of land or control over events or other people. It does not encourage us to exercise authority over others. It has nothing to do with power in a political context. If "occupy" means to fill, here it means to fill time, not to fill space or possess land.

If the instruction speaks to us today, it simply tells us to be busy doing the master's will, looking after his interests, to use our time wisely and productively, not to be idle and squander what he has entrusted to us. In summary, serve him well. Always good advice. And not difficult to understand.