Day 11: Jubilee

Today’s reading: Leviticus 22-27, Ps 16-17

Previously in the book of Leviticus, we have seen hints that the Israelites would be expected to treat the poor and oppressed with compassion and justice. Today, we are introduced to the radical notion of jubilee. Every fifty years, all slaves would be set free. Every fifty years, all debts would be erased. Every fifty years, all who had been forced to give up land as payment for a debt would get it back again.

Here we see a plan being laid that will keep families from accumulating or hoarding more than they need over multiple generations. A system that incorporates jubilee prevents perpetual greed. With each generation, it creates the possibility of a fresh start.

The Israelites were the perfect community to inaugurate such a system. They knew firsthand the bonds of slavery, having suffered under the oppressive hand of Pharaoh for hundreds of years in Egypt. Now, even before they have entered the land they will call home, they are being prepared for how to treat one another and their stuff. It is no surprise that they are reminded numerous times that “I am the God. . .who brought you out of Egypt.” This reminder keeps them from thinking they did it on their own. With hearts of gratitude for what has been done for them, they can gladly share with one another.

Whenever we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for God’s proclamation of jubilee on our lives: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” What would it look like for us to take seriously the notion of jubilee in the world today?

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4 Responses to Day 11: Jubilee

  1. Patricia McKeithen says:

    Years back, we borrowed some “seed” money from my in-laws to start the farm ahead of selling our house in town. When we sold our house and went to pay them back, my mother-in-law had me find and read about the seven year jubilee. They forgave our interest. (too bad it hadn’t been a 50 year event!)

  2. Mike Kennedy says:

    Like many of you, Leviticus is a tough read for me. But, Leviticus 25’s Year of Jubilee awakens me. The Runnin’ Rev asked us, “What would it look like for us to take seriously the notion of jubilee in the world today?” Allow me to lift up one example happening right now: The Jubilee Network (http://www.jubileeusa.org/ – this is the Network’s U.S. site). The Jubilee Network “is an alliance of more than 75 religious denominations and faith communities, human rights, environmental, labor, and community groups working for the definitive cancellation of crushing debts to fight poverty and injustice in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.” (taken from its website). Here’s what the Network believes: http://www.jubileeusa.org/about-us/what-we-believe.html.

    This movement started in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s and has made enormous strides in reducing the debt that developing countries owe developed countries and international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. For many countries, the debts are so crushing that they have to pay their international debts instead of investing in education, public health, etc.

    One of my favorite present-day “theologians” is U2’s Bono. He once told the story of meeting with a U.S. Senator about debt relief. Here’s what he said: “When I met with him, he wept. I talked to him about the biblical origin of the idea of Jubilee Year, the idea that every 49 years, you were supposed to release preople from their debt and slaves were supposed to be set free. It’s very punk rock for God, but I think it’s in Leviticus. He was genuinely moved by the story of the continent of Africa, and he said to me, “America needs to do more.” I think he felt it as a burden on a spiritual level.”

    This started as, and continues to be, a movement fueled by people of faith. The Network is an example of what people of faith – “ordinary” folks like you and me (and Bono!) – can accomplish by banding together to advocate on behalf of justice for the poor.

    A round of debt relief in the early part of the 2000s produced these results: Debt savings in Uganda were used for double elementary school enrollment. in Mozambique, 500,000 people were vaccinated against deadly diseases. Tanzania eliminated school fees causing 1.5 million kids to return to school. Honduras invested its savings in access to junior high school for all young people. And, remember when governments cancelled Haiti’s debt after the 2010 earthquake? The Jubilee Network and people of faith around the world played a big part in making that happen. We should ask ourselves “would the topic of debt relief be on our international decision makers’ list of priorities if it weren’t for the millions of voices of people of faith being a voice for the voiceless?”

    Now that’s what I call faith in action!

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