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God's Economic Justice: Year of Jubilee Deuteronomy 15:1-11

01/13/2012 05:15 pm ET | Updated Mar 14, 2012

It is no secret that many persons and families are going through hard times. The rise of unemployment is alarming. Despite these economic realities, I believe that God is calling us this year to be one of Jubilee for our nation, world and global marketplace.

One of the most interest and revealing parts of the law is the concept of the Jubilee and all that is implied. It is here I believe that we find economic justice from God's point of view. Most of the Jubilee concepts are spelled out in Leviticus 25; probably the most distinguishing feature is that land, like people, could be bought and sold but only fifty years at a time.

Jubilee ethics required that debts be canceled, slaves be freed, Ver. 1. -- Release. The word thus rendered (שְׁמִטָּה, from שָׁמַט, to leave, to let lie fallow). The debt was to be left in the hands of the debtor, as the land was to be let lie or left untilled for that year. Every forty-nine years the land was to enjoy a double Sabbath, which meant no agricultural work to speak of for the people for two years. No wonder they were to proclaim liberty throughout the land!

The Israelites were not only to help the poor, but they were to refrain from what would be a hardship and oppression to them. Debtors, consequently, were not to be deprived of the benefit of the sabbatical year, for at the close of each seventh year there was to be a release. This does not imply that the debt was to be remitted, but only that the debtor was not then to be pressed for payment. This is an addition to the law of the Sabbath-year (Exod. 23:10, etc.; Lev. 25:2-7).

God's economic justice plan is not just for the poor or rich but is a means to show that every fifty years, it is time to level the playing field and begin anew. The flip side, of course is that every fifty years the rich were more or less back to square one. Under this system it wasn't impossible to exploit the poor, but there was a limit to how long the same people could be exploited. To make things even more difficult for the rich, they were prohibited by God from charging interest on money lent. Under this system it seems useless to waste all one's energies simply trying to accumulate more and more; and, if one does not spend his or her energies that way, he or she he or she has time for other things -- God for instance, family, self. This reminds me of the concept of professional sports of how the team with the worst record always got the highest pick. The Year of Jubilee shows us that the faith of our ancestors to trust in God must be practiced even in economic hard times. Just as those Israelites that planted no crops and depending completing on God's promise to provide.

Jubilee concepts help us better understand Jesus. When his disciples rebuked the woman for anointing Jesus' feet with the expensive perfume, which could have been sold and given to the poor, Jesus said, "The poor you will have with you always."(Matthew 26:11). Jesus as so often interpreted is not saying that we must resign ourselves to the fact that we will always have poor people, and that there is nothing we can do about it. Jesus I believe is setting forth an ideal that the Israelites missed in this Deuteronomy passage that the result of disobedience and hoarding our wealth causes us to be poor in spirit in not putting God's economics in practice.

There is a hypothesis in New Testament studies that one of the reasons that the Jews of Jesus' day rejected him as Messiah was that he was calling them to practice once again the Jubilee, and that they, especially the Sadducees and wealthy Pharisees, had too much to lose in terms of properties and riches. How does this concept of Jubilee coincide with the call for reparations for the injustices of slavery and the exploitation of our people? It is no coincidence that we see the story illustrated of the rich young ruler that was willing to give up everything except his wealth to the poor. Jesus was an itinerant Galilean charismatic preacher and could be tolerated until he overturned the tables of moneychangers in the Temple.

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated not when he was articulating a dream but until he started meddling with the economic injustices of the nation in an organize effort with the Poor Peoples Campaign. It is time that we as a global marketplace examine the ethics of a Jubilee Year in practicing God's plan for economic justice. In this time of reflection, it is important that we remain steadfast and jubilant and affirm that in all situations give thanks to our God.