There are actually people who think that the prize for being godly is money. The goal of declaring the gospel is gold. Christian leadership is a byproduct to their true heart’s desire: wealth and influence among those who are wealthy and influential. Such leaders “demand the food allowance of the governor” because they see themselves as special, and because they have lost sight of the Saviour. Let’s be careful therefore that we do not fall into the trap of seeking entitlement because we can. It truly is the canary in the mineshaft of where are hearts are when it comes to love of God or love of money.
There’s something ugly, something character revealing, about the politician who squeezes absolutely every inch out of their entitlements. Those who make sure that every dollar of those things that they can technically claim is used up, and who spend the time to do so.
Every few years there are outcries about some entitlement scandal in which a politician has to resign or pay back money in light of their, shall we say, creative attempt to prove that the holiday they had on the Gold Coast was for “research purposes”, or that the apartment they rented in the city was actually their regular abode when they were working in Parliament, even though they owned a home nearby.
It was indeed these “second home” expenses that brought down many a politician and resulted in jail terms for some during the 2009 expenses scandal in the UK. There was outrage among members of the public when they discovered the manner in which so much tax payers money was being used to fund profligate lifestyles of those who were already on a good financial wicket.
For many of the UK’s best known politicians it was either embarrassing, or career-ending. It was clear that these politicians who were elected to serve had forgotten that, and had become self-serving instead. Technically they appeared not to be breaking any of the rules, but in reality they were exploiting loopholes in exactly the way the self-righteous leaders of Israel exploited moral loopholes in Jesus’ day, whilst still adhering to the letter of the law.
And perhaps too – indeed most likely – these pollies had grown a sense of entitlement. I mean, it’s a tough job being a national MP, right? Late nights, lots of travel, trying to keep constituents happy. And then there’s the press! Oh my goodness, the press!
You can see how they got there. Increment by increment.
Contrast that behaviour with that of Nehemiah in the book that bears his name. He was the Old Testament leader of Israel who returned to the burnt out, broken down capital city Jerusalem to rebuild it after the exiles had started to trickle back from the Persian Empire. Nehemiah was used to living near luxury, as chapter one tells us his job was cup-bearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes.
Having returned with the king’s blessing to rebuild the city, and having been made governor, Nehemiah sets about the task in the face of opposition without and within. There is external opposition from neighbouring nations who threaten to kill the rebuilders. And worse than that, there is still a persistent sin in Israel, with internal opposition in the form of political intrigue by those opposed to his national/spiritual building program.
But to make matters worse the wealthier people of the land have started to fall back into the practices injustice and oppression that was part of the reason Israel ended up in exile in the first place. We read in Nehemiah 5 how Israelites were selling themselves into slavery to pay their debts to their Jewish brothers, and how the wealthy were hoovering up all of the land and vineyards, which according to the Law was not permitted, as the LORD had allotted inheritances to each family, and that it could not be permanently sold on or acquired. Nehemiah puts a stop to it all.
But more than that. Nehemiah does not call for a standard he is not willing to maintain himself. As the governor of the nation he had the right, like many of the political leaders of our day, to draw from the allowance of the governorship to feed himself and his entourage. In other words, not to be out of pocket, and with the always present temptation to line those pockets, with taxpayers money.