Proclaiming the year of jubilee

Posted: March 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

You are also to count off seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years. … You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you  Leviticus 25.8-10, esv

We take our calendar so much for granted, it’s easy to forget that ancient cultures had calendars of their own
We may not realise that these calendars embodied different ways of thinking about time
In nearly every case, that was a religious view of time

To the ancient Hebrews, the universe is a divine creation
Each new day, each season, each new year, is a new act of creation –a divine gift
God has his times and seasons, and these must be our times and seasons, if we want our will to agree with his

We sang, :Lift your voice, it’s the year of Jubilee; out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes
The year of jubilee – what does that mean?

It’s got nothing to do with the English word jubilation
It comes from the Hebrew yobel or qeren hayyobel, the horn of the ram meaning trumpet – the trumpet used in temple worship

The Jewish calendar is organised around cycles of seven
A week is seven days, mirroring the days of creation, and the seventh day is the Sabbath, a day of rest

The years follow the same pattern
Every seventh year is a Sabbatical Year – nothing is planted and the earth is allowed to rest

Every seventh Sabbatical Year, in other words every 49th year, is a Year of Jubilee
The Jubilee is a great religious festival
It is a time of redemption, and restoration; it marks a new beginning

Jubilee is a time to focus on relationships with neighbours, with the land, and with God
Sometimes, people in this society sold themselves into slavery to clear their debts
Jubilee is the time when the law says, they must be set free

If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee (Lev 25.39)

The Promised Land is God’s land – he gave it to his people as their inheritance
The land was divided among the tribes and their clans, as described in Scripture

The land cannot be bought and sold – it can only be rented
When the year of Jubilee comes, the land returns to its original owner

In writings from before the exile, Scripture promises judgement on people who try to build enormous estates for themselves

Woe to those who join house to house,
who add field to field, until there is no more room,
and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.” (Isa 5.8-9)

You know the story of Naboth’s vineyard – he refused to sell his land to King Ahab
Because it was not his to sell – it was his children’s inheritance
An inheritance which came not from him, but from God

We know if the Bible condemns anything, it must have been something that was already happening – you don’t pass laws against crimes that no one commits
The Bible’s books of the law tell God’s people their actions have divine consequences

Every Jubilee is an opportunity and a summons, to make a fresh start
A time for people to repent of their disobedience, forgive their debtors, free their slaves, restore the property they have taken, and turn back to God

According to tradition, God’s people entered the Promised Land in a Jubilee year
The exiles return from Babylon in another Jubilee year
The timing of their homecoming is a sign that God is making a new covenant with his people – which means a fresh start, a new obligation to live according to the laws of God

Nehemiah comes to lead the people who have come home
And he’s upset to find already they have departed from the law of the covenant

They are doing three things to their poorer neighbours which the law explicitly forbids:
– Lending money to them and demanding interest
– Taking over their land
– Forcing them and their families to work as slaves

Nehemiah only came to Jerusalem to help the people rebuild the walls
But he finds there is a much more important work to do
To rebuild the community, and restore justice

He takes the wealthy to task; he forces them to make restitution; he declares a jubilee
In doing so he tells them, in no uncertain terms, that the blessings of God are meant to be theirs; that their poverty is not a sign that God favours others more than them

That presents us with a challenge
The poorer you are in our society, the more likely you are to suffer exploitation
Poverty breeds poverty, and disadvantage breeds disadvantage

What does salvation mean, to people who live in poverty from day to day?
How can we talk about the promises of God, to people who have only known disappointment and broken commitments?

How can we talk to people who have nothing, about the riches of Christ?
What does it mean to say to people with nothing, as Jesus did, I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10.10)?
How can we demonstrate to people, who can’t get themselves out of debt, that coming to Christ is a new beginning, that wipes out the past?

Unless and until we find ways to do address the material problems of poverty, it’s not likely they’ll believe that the kingdom we speak about is something real

3 March 2018, St George’s, High Heaton


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