Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Celebrating Jubilee - Reconciliation First.


Freedom by Vesna Martinjak
For my friends, family, and myself, it feels like an entire year of celebration. In fact, I just told a judge on Friday that there's too many painful moments we experience, but we need to really seize the beautiful days we have, like today. Friday was a beautiful day. And I spent the afternoon and evening at Santa Monica, enjoying the sun, sea, and sand. It made me think about how this is Jubilee year. Just a few weeks ago began the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.

What's Jubilee? The secular definition is a celebration of an anniversary. Hence, the Queen's Platinum Jubilee is the celebration of her 70 years of rule. 

But the Torah gives us a much more specific definition. In Hebrew - Jubilee means "ram's horn" - which was blown to announce the start of the Jubilee year, an awesome year. It's also related to the Hebrew word for "release" and "liberty".  

According to Leviticus, Jubilee was celebrated after seven cycles of a sabbatical year, which occurred once every seven years. A sabbatical year was a commandment by God to rest and to do no work and to let the fields lie fallow. If you think about it, it's pretty radical that God would say stop working for an entire year and not make any money. 

Practicing the Sabbatical and Jubilee was really a practice of obedience and trust in God. It was a declaration that doing what was right, like letting the land rest, or redeeming someone's freedom, or letting the poor eat off your land, was more important than earning a profit. And the Jewish people had to trust God would provide during that year and some time after, for practicing active rest, celebrating, and honoring a good God.

Incidentally, followers of my blog will remember, I actually took a year and 3 months off of a sabbatical. Finances were tough on my return. But looking back, no regrets. Taking a sabbatical was like removing the string of the bow of my mind and restringing to make it sharp again. I was mentally more agile because I took a year off, gave work a rest, and made no money in that year.

Well; Jubilee was even more radical. On the 50th year (49 years for 7 cycles of sabbath), the Hebrew people were commanded to forgive all debts, free all slaves and prisoners, and return all ancient lands to their property owner. It was a year, in which Heaven could be experienced on Earth. Some Rabbi scholars actually argue that Jubilee required two years of rest: the 49th year and the 50th year, meaning that God's people actually had to really have faith that provisions would be made.

In any event, Jubilee was and is a year of celebration, because we're celebrating the fact that all debts have been paid, and we're free. It was also a future foreshadowing of how God would one day reunite his people to him one day by forgiving all sins and clearing the slate free for all of us to bring us back to Him, because as Numbers says (which I've been reading and enjoying thoroughly): "In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." (Numbers 14:19-21).

One scholar says that the Jews never practiced Jubilee, perhaps because they refused to forgive everyone's debt. (Lester L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Vol. 1, p. 223; Bloomsbury, 2006). Sadly, that also meant that the people didn't receive the full blessing and benefit of the greatness of debt forgiveness.

In any event, even if we can't fully practice all the regulations of Jubilee this year, I do ask we try to make this year about reconciliation with family and friends. Leviticus clearly commands that if a family member becomes a slave, that the family has to repurchase his freedom back during a Jubilee year. How often is this happening in our society today? Often.

People fall into gambling debt. People fall into drug addictions. Families are split up and broken by greed and seductive but empty affairs. Leviticus never says the person isn't to blame for her poor choices that brought her into bondage. It says despite that person falling into slavery, we who have more and are more fortunate, are commanded to get them out of slavery and reconcile them back to family. God commands us to do this, because He does it for us. And that's at the core of God's heart.

This year, I had to help free two people who were imprisoned into slavery by their bad choices. Both times, I was really upset that I had to do so. I also felt like it was really unfair for me to carry such a heavy burden alone, both financial and emotional.

But I manned up. I owned the responsibility. I told myself my motivation is to do the right thing. And I'm going to do it. Looking back, I can say, there's nothing like having relationships restored.

So - this Jubilee year - I'm asking everyone to make the goal of restoring relationships more important than making a profit. The next one will be 50 years from now. So, let's practice and celebrate an awesome year together.

We're here to set the captive free. Then we can celebrate the freedom we both experience. Not only is the person in bondage free, but letting go of money (and our faith in it) to purchase someone else's freedom also frees those who have wealth and privilege.

I end with the last two verse from the Parable of the Prodigal Son. My son,’ [the more privileged one] the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-2, NIV).

Rembrandt's Prodigal Son.

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