Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 21, 2019

When is it Jubilee?

  Reading, watching, hearing the stories of people who are directly impacted by the partial government shutdown has been heartbreaking. The only people who benefit are…well, nobody. Some politicians think the longer the shutdown, the more likely they are to get their way. Maybe. But that isn’t exactly a benefit; it’s a calculated disregard for the people they’re supposed to serve. Some government services have declined or stopped. 800,000 federal employees aren’t receiving paychecks (add their dependents to that list, and there are millions affected). Many of them are not able to pay their bills.

          Bright spots in this mess have been hard to see. But I admit to being amazed at the groups and individuals who have come forward to offer what they can to assist where they can. Some do it from a place of faith, some from a sense of civic responsibility, some simply because they care about other people.

  When Jesus went to his hometown synagogue he read from the prophet Isaiah:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  [from Luke 4]

          Did he say “today”? Really? Because how much misery was right in his line of vision? How many people were sick, hungry, unemployed?

          His reference appears to be about the year of Jubilee, proclaimed in the law of Moses. Every fiftieth year there was to be a “year of the Lord’s favor.”

          During the Jubilee, land was to be returned to its original owners (or their heirs). So in a sense, land would be available for 49-year lease, not out and out purchase. And indentured servants—those who were enslaved to pay off debts—were to be released from their enslavement.

          It was designed to be an economic equalizer. It was wealth-sharing.

          It’s unclear that Jubilee was ever truly observed. It was certainly a religious celebration which began with the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, and feasting. But the land returning? Indentured people receiving their freedom? It likely never happened, at least on a broad scale.

          But was it enough that economic justice was an ideal?  Well, maybe it wasn’t enough, but it had to have been helpful. Rabbis could make appeals that servants should be released—that they and their children ought to be allowed to have freedom and to start over. They could encourage people not just to buy up and accumulate land, but to have a fairer distribution. Maybe that wasn’t the fullness of what was intended in the law, but it was something.

          To consider Jubilee means to remember that things are not fair, and that we can and should do something to create more fairness, more justice. This is a value that spans the millennia.

          Even though we remember that Jubilee never fully reasserts the complete fairness and equality God desires, we look for places where justice is lacking, and places where efforts are underway to create more equity. When we see those efforts, we celebrate them. When we are able, we emulate them.

          When is it Jubilee? We’ll never see it. But we can access the ideal, just as the ancients did, by celebrating it, moving toward it, and dreaming of justice.

© 2019, Melissa Bane Sevier

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Responses

  1. Jubilee somehow reminds me of large bequests. After completing their building campaign, 1st Presbyterian Church, Wetumpka (like us here at Versailles Presbyterian Church) received a large gift from a member who remembered all their church (the Body of Christ) had meant to them. Saturday, their church building was destroyed by a tornado. Yes, they cannot duplicate a 135 year old historic structure surrounded by a little picket fence and carefully planted roses.
    After discovering that his family and friends were well, their pastor waded into the ruble. He came our hauling his best friend, Bertha, by the neck. A TV station recorded his words as he said, “God is good, all the time.” The reporter asked him for a song and he plucked a few cords on that faithful old bass violin and sang.
    At first, I thought of preaching from that pulpit 6 times a year for five years. Jonathan Yarboro trusted this older retired minister to proclaim the good news while he retreated or studied. Two days later, I am recalling that man with that pony tail trailing and his joy.
    What do we leave behind? It might be some of the ideals of jubilee.

  2. Thanks, Bert. How heartbreaking. I’m so glad no one was hurt. I’ve seen photos of the destruction, and from what I hear of that pastor and congregation, they’ll be able to get through this together.


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