The whole concept of Jubilee expressed certain values, certain ideals, certain hopes that placed value upon individuals. It placed value upon heritage and inheritance; it placed value upon family and people.
When I think about Jubilee, the first thing that comes to my mind is the Jubilee 2000 Campaign headed up by the great rock star-evangelist Bono. He and several others sought to forgive international debt as a gesture of good means, regardless of what you might think of Bono or any of the things that go along with him. I know many people often take exception to the idea of Bono as a credible voice in economic matters. But, his rationale for a modern day Jubilee is that the problems in the Third World, and particularly in Africa, are not problems these people have caused. They are problems their great-grandfathers have caused.
Bono made the case that this is an issue of justice. Should we continue to hold accountable the children of people who generations ago had made these mistakes? Should we force them to keep paying something they have no way to pay, thereby enslaving them to a life of perpetual poverty, starvation, and disease?
Unfortunately, Bono’s Jubilee 2000, perhaps dishearteningly, did not succeed in getting nations to forgive international debt.
What I think is so cool about at least his ambition is that he was expressing a spiritual ideal—the spirit of Jubilee. The campaigns values and hopes for economic redistribution were about equality. There wouldn’t be really, really, really rich people and really, really, really poor people. There would always be varying degrees of wealth and success, but at least the very poor and the very rich would arrive at something far closer to the middle.
And there was always reason for people to hope.
The spirit of Jubilee also informed the vision of the prophets, particularly represented by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61, which we’ll get to in just a few moments. Jubilee was a prominent theme, a vision, a hope for a different future. It helped Isaiah say, “Look, this is total garbage. The rich get richer, the poor get poor. The rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor.” The prophets again and again reminded people of the spirit of Jubilee. What God wants for us as his people is not incredible success and incredible poverty. It’s not the people with so much ignoring the people with so little. Instead, it’s those who have being able to help those who do not have, and being burdened and pushed to do so.
This idea of Jubilee is brought up again by Jesus. It’s easy to trace the spirit of
Jubilee in many of his teachings. You can see he embodied the idea.
Finally, in contrast to the concept of tithing, Jubilee was quickly put into practice by the early Church. Recall in the Book of Acts where they gave to one another as they had need—Luke records no one among them going without. There was a community ethic whereby they looked after one another.