Nonessential Funding

Daily Bible reading crashed into my news feeds today. So I’ll throw the mess at you and see what sticks.

Here’s Steven Greenhut’s piece from “Tax Day“: It’s mind-boggling to think about how little we actually get for all that cash, especially here in California where the state government measures success by how much money they allocate for different programs rather than by how effectively those programs fulfill their stated goals. 

Then there was another of Jeffrey A. Tucker’s explorations of the Covid insanity inflicted on us by the above mentioned confiscators of our money: When they had the chance to decide what was essential and nonessential, they chose a society massively segregated between the rulers and those who make their lives possible, while everyone else was dispensable. This is not an accident. This is how they see the world and perhaps how they want it to function in the future. 

Worse, we throw billions of dollars at political campaigns, to elect and enable these people who already exercise coercive power to take and in many cases squander staggering amounts of our earnings.

Meanwhile, in my morning Bible reading, there’s a good bit about spending on what our current government deems nonessential, the practice of faith.

Numbers 18 is, admittedly, one of those dense, numbing Old Testament chapters that can make folks give up on trying to plow through the Bible. But it is about people blessed by God giving back to maintain those who represent the Holy One in their midst (that is, to support religion).

In the chapter, God appoints ministers to serve as mediators between the people and God. To support them, God obligates offerings from the people, including food, material resources, and even other dedicated people to play key roles in the work.

But at various points in outlining this essential giving, God is clear that the appointed religious leaders are not to exploit and confiscate what God has provided for the people: And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel…you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.” (verses 20, 32)

Christians believe that the essential complexities of Numbers 18 are carried out in Jesus: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…(1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Remarkably, my morning New Testament reading shows Jesus accepting offerings with no “essential” function but to honor him; those who turn against and betray him are specifically riled that a costly offering lavished on Jesus was not used for a project they deemed essential:

 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.  There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.  But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Mark 13:3-11)

But Jesus does not exploit the woman’s offering for his own benefit. In short order, he begins his self sacrifice for the people. What he is about to give is immeasurably more than what he has received from them:

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many…” (vv.22-24)

I am not arguing that the general public should be obligated to support the church. But in the United States, our Constitution does forbid the government from declaring one or all religions as essential or nonessential. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, begins the First Amendment.

The many are welcome to (IMO) foolishly throw money into politics while politics exploits and despoils them. If that is what the people deem “essential,” they’re welcome to it.

Likewise, those of us who believe will give willingly to the work of the God who loves us and blesses us with all that we have. And we’ll pay our public taxes as good neighbors, which is what our God tells us to do.

This is because believers endure a dual citizenship, struggling to honor the proclaimed “essentials” of passing earthly kingdoms while seeking to represent our true and eternal native land, which seems nonessential to unbelievers: For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:18-21)

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