Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you.
A Fresh Start
When I was little, one my favorite songs was “Rise and Shine”, a spiritual we sang in children’s church. I loved it for being full of magical-sounding phrases and brisk—a real toe-tapper, by far the happiest tune in our kiddy hymnals. Each verse repeated a phrase three times: “Rise, shine, give God the glory, glory!” in verse one; “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, ladder” in verse two; and, “Every round goes higher and higher, higher” in the third. They all ended with: “In the Year of Jubilee.” If our teacher explained the Year of Jubilee, it didn’t stick. In our minds, “jubilee” conjured images of picnics, carnivals, and sunny celebrations, which was what made it so happy.
Once I understood Jubilee, I saw how closely our young imaginations captured its spirit—and why an unknown slave built a song replete with optimism on the premise. “Rise and Shine” is about life cycles, based on Leviticus 25. God instructs Israel, “When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD.” They’re to farm the land for six years and let it rest during the seventh, eating only what it yields on its own. After repeating the cycle seven times, a marvelous thing happens. The fiftieth year is declared a Year of Jubilee. All outstanding debts are settled. Property liens are lifted. Transactions that scattered tribes are nullified and families return to their roots. The Year of Jubilee gives Israel a fresh start—freedom to begin again with knowledge gained from the past to create a more prosperous, secure future.
An Escape Clause
Leviticus lays out a restitution formula for those who lose land and laborers when everything returns to its original condition. But it adds an escape clause for people without means to redeem themselves and restart their lives. Their debts are forgiven outright, leaving those who prospered to absorb the loss. Mistakes and misfortunes of the past stay in the past so the entire nation can turn to the future. Forgiveness is final. Mercy is granted without hesitance or condition. Advantages acquired via unavoidable circumstances are dismantled. It’s this that inspired the spiritual—the promise of rising and shining in freedom, no longer held back by injustice and discrimination, at liberty to ascend heaven’s staircase step by step alongside believers of every race and kind. And while slavery was long ago abolished, the hope in “Rise and Shine” still rings true.
Prompt the Promise
Jubilee is promised to all who suffer inequities and loss. Sadly, millions are overwhelmed by insuperable poverty, oppression, ignorance, and discrimination. Like American slaves, it’s beyond them to overturn obstacles between them and jubilee. On the other hand, we in societies founded on equality, freedom, and progress have the power to prompt the promise. We start by declaring a Year of Jubilee in our own lives, planting its principle and spirit in our families and communities, and celebrating its virtues in all we do. One by one, it spreads, gaining potential and momentum to arrive in dismal quarters and distant shores where the possibility of jubilee sleeps in a blanket of hope.
It sounds like a grandiose undertaking. Yet if we approach it as people who’ve prospered, it becomes a much more achievable task. Instead of demanding restitution from those unable (or unwilling) to pay, we absorb the loss. We forgive debts and renew respect for others. We close the books on past differences. We clear the record of insults and expectations. We show mercy, discard prejudices, and give any we hold to account a fresh start. Many, possibly most, will disregard our forgiveness and enter the new cycle immediately racking up new debts. But the few who seize the chance to start again, debt-free and unencumbered by guilt, in turn will declare their Years of Jubilee. Change creeps more often than sweeps. A global jubilee will take decades to achieve. Yet the longer we wait to declare it, the later it will come for those unable to make it happen.
Let’s do this thing. Let’s rise, shine, and give God the glory in the Year of Jubilee!
The Year of Jubilee enables us to erase debts owed to us and offer others a fresh start.
(Tomorrow: The Family Tree)