In the Old Testament, the word Jubilee is used for every fiftieth year when debts are wiped out, land is restored and servants are released from bondage: “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10).
Amongst all of the laws and commands lifted from the Bible and applied literally today without their appropriate context, this is one of the ones that seem to have slipped by the wayside. Can you imagine what a world that observed a Jubilee year every fifty years would look like? I actually can’t.
Christians today hold that every year is a Year of Jubilee as Christ, through his death, released us from the bondage of sin. Somehow we’ve reduced it to a metaphor. But Leviticus is quite clear: God isn’t talking about metaphorical debts or land or servants. It’s a year of rejoicing and redistribution and rejoining your families.
Just stop, and think for a moment. Every fifty years, debts wiped out. That means loans, mortgages, finance on purchases. Charges on credit cards. I have lived in debt and it is crushing. The freedom of having it removed is like an actual weight being lifted from your shoulders. I see people who struggling to get by because they have payments to this company or that; or who live on credit cards with huge interest rates because they don’t have enough to get by. One day those credit cards will call the debt in and I know well the sickening fear that will come. I’m not surprised people commit suicide because of their debts; it is like a heavy chain choking you and dragging you down into the dark. Imagine, then, the freedom of being released from those debts.
Zoom out a bit more and look at the really big picture: Third World debt, gone. National debts wiped out so that ruthless cuts such as those currently being implemented by our government have no excuse. Of necessity, a real and fair redistribution of wealth.
A book I have just read, Love Wins by Rob Bell puts forward the really beautiful idea that Heaven, as in the Kingdom of God that we pray for every time we utter the Our Father, will come but we have to make it happen here and now. That it is no good keeping our eyes so fixed on the afterlife that we are blind to those in need around us, and that every step we take towards looking after each other (loving our neighbour, anyone?) brings the Kingdom of God closer. If the Kingdom of God is one where people have, for example, clean water to drink and enough food to eat, we can actually make that happen now; there’s more than enough food to feed the world if we shared it properly. Digging a well for a community is a tiny step on that road; proclaiming a Year of Jubilee is a rather bigger one but if the will was there it could, in theory, happen.
I have no idea how it could be put into practice. I’m not an economist, and I know that a Year of Jubilee is realistically not going to happen. But perhaps if more of us stopped thinking of it in metaphorical terms, it could be a little closer to reality?