Today in class we talked a bit about social justice for the starving and extorted and powerless, talking through Nehemiah 5 and the situation there. Quick summary: the Israelites are extorting their own countrymen, and these countrymen complain to Nehemiah that they no longer have money for food and so are forced into mortgage and slavery. Nehemiah rebukes the nobles and officials, asks them to throw out their usurious ways, and then sets the example by feeding his fellow men and not taking the taxes and food he is due as the governor.
There’s the example the bible sets—feed the hungry, redeem the enslaved, set a good example for everyone. This picture I pulled off a friend’s facebook page (someone I would consider a deep and sincere lover of the Lord) says something entirely different. If we feed the hungry, they’ll become dependent on us. I know this picture is only meant to be sort of funny, but it sends a powerful message that the Christians liking and reblogging can’t really mean, and yet we espouse all the time. I hear it from my parents, my home church, peers at Whitworth. We believe that everyone is offered the same opportunities and those who are poor simply didn’t take advantage of those—so it’s their fault they’re starving, suffering, powerless. It’s a completely American attitude, and yet we’ve pulled it in and started expressing it as part of our political views despite the way it contradicts everything our Bible teaches us.
I’m looking at Nehemiah this way: we are the governors, the noblemen and the officials. Right now we’re Nehemiah, looking at the people and saying “you didn’t save enough grain to feed yourself. You made bad financial choices, went with the wrong mortgage, didn’t raise your kids properly. And if we feed you, redeem your children from slavery, and give you power in place of powerlessness, you’ll only become dependent on us and rely on our free handouts.”
I’m exaggerating. Even the people who would trash food stamps and welfare programs help out at a homeless shelter from time to time, do laundry for the clothing bank. But in some sense we look at these things as beneath us—and therefore, the people who utilize the ministry as beneath us too. That needs to change. We need to become the biblical Nehemiah.