I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the year of Jubilee. While there may be no documented evidence that the Jubilee was ever practiced, the basic idea was that every fifty years Israel was to hit the do over switch. Loans would be erased. Slaves would be set free. Families would reclaim their original inherited property. It was economic redistribution at its finest. The rich and poor would both be brought in line with the middle class. However, it would create more than just economic change, other areas would inherently be brought back into normal operation. The class system, which can become so crippling socially, would be done away with. Knowing that there is a way out of bad debt would provide a boost to self-esteem and self-confidence making for a more productive workforce. Most of all, the Jubilee was predicated on the fact that Jehovah God was supreme and the giver of all good things. There’s no reason to hoard resources because God can give more. There’s no reason to mistreat others because you are following a righteous God. The Jubilee would require Israel to maintain covenant faithfulness, thus making their lives inherently better. What would it have been like for Israel if they had ever practiced the Jubilee, especially if they practiced it at every opportunity?
The year of Jubilee was an extension of the Sabbath principle. Sabbath is rooted in two fundamental principles, creation and redemption. In Exodus 20, God tells Israel to keep the Sabbath as a reminder of God’s good creation. God created all things. Humans do not have to work seven days a week to survive because God is the one who provides for them. The creation is not just a bunch of resources to be used and exploited. The creation needs rest to function properly. Humanity is to care for creation; use the resources, but use them responsibly. A break every seventh day is a reminder that humans are not in control, God is.
In Deuteronomy 5, Israel is called to keep the Sabbath as a reminder of their redemption. You used to be slaves in Egypt where you were forced to work everyday. Work was life. In Egypt, you were oppressed, but you have been set free. You have been redeemed. As a reminder of that, do not return to working every single day. Instead, take every seventh day off of work. Spend time with family. Spend time connecting with God. You have been redeemed.
The Jubilee borrows these themes of creation and redemption as a way to anticipate the new creation. God is in charge. Redemption is possible. A new day is coming when we will no longer be oppressed economically, socially, politically, or spiritually. The Jubilee looks to the future and says, why not live new creation life now. Set the prisoners free. Preach good news to the poor. Release the slaves and oppressed. It is the year of the Lord’s favor.
I’m fascinated by the Jubilee because even though it has never been practiced, I wonder what would happen in our world if we did practice it? What would happen if every fifty years we hit the restart button? What would happen if we set everyone free: released the slaves, preached good news to the poor, and provided healing for the nations? As people speak about income inequality in our country, could the Jubilee be the answer? As people speak about problems with immigration and refugees, could the Jubilee be the answer? As we mourn the tragedy of Orlando and other shootings, could Jubilee be the answer? As we worry about the moral decline of our culture, could the Jubilee be the answer? What would happen if our world was immersed in the language of creation and redemption and required to live it out in real and concrete ways?
The antagonist will quickly point out this is a dream that can never happen. Israel was a theodicy which allowed practices like the Jubilee to even be dreamed about. Modern government and the world would never let this happen. Even if Christians practiced Jubilee, no one else would, so it couldn’t work. Maybe in an ideal world this would work, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
Still I wonder, could Jubilee be the answer? Would the world find peace if we practiced Jubilee? Why do we assume the ideal is not possible? Why do we assume we have to wait for the new creation? Why not live the new creation now?
God is the only one that will solve the problems in our world. Could it be, however, that God has already given us ways to make the world better? The Jubilee is about creation and redemption…and it might just be the answer to the world’s problems.
I wonder, what would happen if we practiced Jubilee?