What Is A Jubilee?
The Jubilee. Not to be confused with 'Jamboree,' where one would be met with hundreds of scouts. That much is obvious; but what does the word 'Jubilee' actually mean?
In 2012 we celebrated the Queen of England and her sixty years on the throne, marking a special anniversary and praising her dedication, service and counsel. But another dimension could be added by looking to the origins of a Jubilee. Biblically, it is a year of emancipation and restoration. In the book of Leviticus, the Lord declares that a year of Jubilee be held every 50th year and that it be a special year of pardoning of sins. Slaves were to be freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to its original owner (Leviticus 25). In addition, Israelites were not allowed to 'sow, or reap and store … or gather the grapes of the uncultivated vines' for it was to be a holy year when the land rested too (Leviticus 25:11).
This all sounds rather radical. Would we be willing to wipe out debt others owed us … even if we're short on cash? Why did God instigate the Jubilee?
The character of God displayed
Firstly, a Jubilee shows us more of the character of God. His mercy, generosity, and justice are displayed. The bible is replete with verses showing God's passion to defend those in poverty ' "Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, now I will arise," says the Lord' (Psalm 12:5). The Jubilee's requirements to cancel debts which weigh heavily upon people show His heart for setting the oppressed free.
Reminded that God is our Provider
Secondly, as well as getting to know more of God's character, we are reminded of His and our place in the world. By not sowing or reaping, we are reminded that God is our Creator and Provider. We can trust Him completely for nourishment and recognise that all 'good' things come 'from above' (James 1:17). This is especially significant in light of our consumer society in which we can easily pop to the supermarket for nourishment when we're hungry. We don't often think about where the food comes from and it can blind us to the fact that God provided the sunshine for the wheat to grow, the fruit to ripen, and so on.
A chance to show love and grace
Thirdly, the Jubilee gives people the opportunity to display love and grace in a remarkable way. Being released from a crippling debt can demonstrate love to a person in a way they might not have encountered before; this can in turn point them towards Jesus and the radical grace and mercy He showed on the cross. It also gives the pardoner a chance to be spiritually prosperous, as Jesus explains when he says, 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy' (Matthew 5:7).
From bondage to freedom
Fourthly, it actually does what it says on the tin. In a radical display of justice, people are set free from entrapping debt to start again on an equal footing. Those in bondage, who might be hidden today but are numerous, are set free from their dark environment. Jesus gave a Jubilee message in the Temple when he proclaimed the 'year of the Lord's favour,' stating that He'd come to 'set the oppressed free' (Luke 4:18-19).
Consequently, a Jubilee is a particularly fitting time to be rejoicing - to remember our God-given, eternal freedom and celebrate it. In rest we find freedom. We rest from striving to pay off unjust debts, rest from struggling to provide, rest from oppression. We rest and so find time to rejoice universally.
So how can we put into practice some of these biblical themes?
Perhaps we could remember how the Queen has defended the nation, including the poor. We could remember that all good gifts are God-given, including the advantages of having a monarch. We can join in Jesus' mission to 'set the oppressed free' by befriending a struggling neighbour. And we can think of ways we could show mercy to others, whether in practical or emotional ways - such as showing forgiveness. This final theme of being merciful was taken up by an international coalition in the year 2000:
The purpose of Jubilee 2000 was to cancel $90 billion of debt for poorer countries. The economic situation in Greece in 2011/2012 caused many to ask for a cancellation of the country's debt, including the Jubilee Debt Campaign (the new name of the original movement). This is a controversial issue, yet debt cancellation allows countries to direct money towards vital needs such as healthcare and education. Supporters of the Jubilee 2000 movement such as Jonathan Glennie believe it has saved and improved 'millions of lives' because of its re-direction of money (Jubilee Debt Campaign)
In terms of releasing the oppressed from other kinds of bondage, movements such as 'Stop The Traffik' unite individuals and organisations working to fight against human trafficking. There are many more - please feel free to suggest some movements or charities below.
Ultimately, a Jubilee is a chance for us to rejoice - not only in the Queen - but in the freedom we have from debts we owed our Creator - we can join with the psalmist in saying 'you have set my heart free!' (Psalm 119:32)
-Do you agree that releasing countries from debt is a positive way to show mercy?
-How else do you think we can demonstrate the heart of the biblical Jubilee?