Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Sorrow of Jubilee

Jubilee is the greatest story in scripture. Well, it's the greatest description in scripture, since Jubilee doesn't appear to have ever been a reality. Jubilee was the call of God's people, every 50 years, to restore all property to its original owners. If people had lost or been forced to sell land over the course of five decades, it would be returned. Essentially, people were only ever leasing the land. Slaves were never really slaves, but indentured servants with contracts that expired at Jubilee.

It's a beautiful idea, an escape from the constant drive to accumulate and hoard. Jubilee provides a great picture of what justice could look like in our world.


I've never really asked myself until recently, why is there a need for jubilee?

Why would this command be included in God's word to God's people? Why would this beautiful image even be something people might strive for (even though we never have seemed to live up to it)? It's really because people weren't taking care of each other. People in difficult circumstances or on wrong side of bad decisions were being left to their own devices. There was no justice and so justice was demanded.

But we really shouldn't need a reset every 50 years, especially not the people of God. We should be a people of compassion and justice at all times. Frankly, there isn't really a reason why people should have to sell their land or themselves to survive. Society never should have even gotten to a point where the call to Jubilee was warranted. We should all be more gracious than that.

Jubilee is great and we shouldn't cease to marvel at its greatness, but we have to remember, it's an accommodation to human society, not some ideal for us to aspire to fulfill. Yes, jubilee would be better than what we've got now, but jubilee is not the Kingdom; it's not the goal. Jubilee is just a marker on the journey, a sign pointing towards eternity and the Kingdom of God. It's a correction to the collective sin of human society and despite our inability to imagine its reality, it's very existence as an idea is an indictment of how we live.

Go ahead and live in whatever consumeristic ways your heart desires, but every 50 years, you have to show a little grace. It's like throwing God a bone. I've always looked at Jubilee as this amazing image, but our faith and life should really have progressed well beyond Jubilee at this point. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, brings us well passed Jubilee - give to those who ask without expecting anything in return, turn the other cheek, love your enemies. These are notions well beyond Jubilee.

So often it seems we accommodate ourselves to failure. I try to eat just two cupcakes and actually mow down a half dozen. Well, maybe keep it to four next time, right? Jesus doesn't work this way. You can't get this Jubilee thing to happen, well let's just up the ante a bit so you know I'm serious.

We always complain out of our fear, specifically a fear of lack, a fear of suffering. Some of these people deserve to lose what they have, Jesus - me giving them more will just be enabling poor choices. Of course, then we start to sound like those people who tried to stone him when he proclaimed universal grace: release to the prisoner, freedom to the captive, sight to the blind. We're happy to take that grace for ourselves, but we're not sure there's enough of it to go around.

This is why we needed Jubilee - because it only takes an instant for us to look away from suffering and into our own pockets (or pocketbooks), terrified that we won't have enough. Jubilee was supposed to be a reminder that there's enough for all - Jesus takes it one step farther and shows even when there's not enough, it's somehow enough to go around.

I've said for a while now that the greatest tragedy in history is that God's people never practiced Jubilee, but I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the greatest tragedy in history is that we ever needed to be called to it in the first place.

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