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Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Year of Jubilee

When we have a General or Local Election I wonder whether you read the manifesto’s of the candidates that you are able to vote for. I guess that most of us don’t. Often they are quite wordy and many people don’t believe a word that is written in them.

The political parties know this, as is demonstrated by this quote from a post entitled Why manifestos still matter (even if nobody reads them) from Labour List:

“Given the amount of time and effort that goes into producing election manifestos, the number of people who actually read them is frighteningly small. Every campaign, parties make determined efforts to get them onto shelves but their sales hardly threaten JK Rowling or even the authors of well-known political diaries (still available in all good book shops) ….

But for the millions of voters who decide the election outcome … well for the overwhelming majority, life’s too short.”

The passage that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4. 16 - 24) was the manifesto for his ministry and for the kingdom of God. We would do well not to ignore this manifesto because what Jesus spoke about here he actually did in the course of his ministry. He did exactly what it says on the tin, as the advert goes. 

Jesus’ manifesto was taken from Isaiah 61 and is all about release. Release from poverty, imprisonment, blindness and oppression. What Jesus is proclaiming would have been recognised by his hearers as the announcement of the Year of Jubilee – “the time when the Lord shall come to save his people.”

The word ‘jubilee’ stems from the Hebrew word ‘Yobel’, which refers to the ram or ram’s horn with which jubilee years were proclaimed. In Leviticus it states that such a horn or trumpet is to be blown on the tenth day of the seventh month after the lapse of ‘seven Sabbaths of years’ (49 years) as a proclamation of liberty throughout the land of the tribes of Israel. The year of jubilee was a consecrated year of ‘Sabbath-rest’ and liberty. During this year all debts were cancelled, lands were restored to their original owners and family members were restored to one another.

The people listening to Jesus knew about Jubilee but had never heard anything like his statement before. What Jesus was saying and how he was saying it was astonishing. They had heard teachers talk of the law before but this was something so amazing that they were in awe. Jesus was in another league because he claimed to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 61:1–2.

Jesus stated that he had come to ‘proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18–19). That is the year of jubilee and so Jesus proclaimed his coming and the coming of God’s kingdom as the time of Jubilee – a time of release for all people from those things that enslave us and trap us.

Each one of us is a slave to sin and blind to the truth about God because we have chosen to live selfish lives turning our backs on God and the way of life that he had created for human beings to live. In turning away from God’s ways we do not do away with gods altogether instead our desires run riot and we become slaves to them worshipping other gods; whether they come in the form of money, sex, celebrity or whatever.

Jesus comes to free us from all of these enslavements and to open our eyes to the way in which God created human beings to live; loving God with all our being and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

This isn’t something that is just for us as individuals however. It is also something which can impact all of society. After all, the Old Testament Jubilee was intended for the nation of Israel, not simply individuals within it. A contemporary example of this happening in practice is the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is part of a global movement demanding freedom from the slavery of unjust debts and a new financial system that puts people first. Inspired by the ancient concept of ‘jubilee’, the Jubilee Debt Campaign works for a world where debt is no longer used as a form of power by which the rich exploit the poor. Freedom from debt slavery is a necessary step towards a world in which our common resources are used to realise equality, justice and human dignity. It is particularly important that we think about such things at the end of One World Week where people from diverse backgrounds have been coming together to learn about global justice, to spread that learning and to use it to take action for justice locally and globally.

We can see from all this that, in order to understand what our release means, we need to be people who know and understand the Bible. Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel shows us clearly that Jesus was immersed in the Hebrew scriptures and saw them as speaking about himself. When he was tempted by the Devil at the beginning of Chapter 4 he defended himself by quoting from the Bible. In that passage he used the Bible to tell the Devil what he will not be like and here, in the synagogue, he used the Bible to tell everyone what he will be like. We can do the same if we read and understand what God is saying to us in the Bible both about those things from which our lives need to be freed and those things to which we need to dedicate our lives, talents and time.     

The people who heard Jesus were, initially, impressed by what he said but as they realised that Jesus intended this Jubilee to be for all people they rejected him and tried to kill him. What will our response to Jesus’ manifesto be? Will it be the rejection that he experienced from the people of Nazareth? Will it be the apathy and disbelief that we accord to most political manifestos? Will it be the cynicism or distrust that some feel towards events like One World Week? Or will it be acceptance of the release from slavery to sin that Jesus offers to us and involvement in his work of releasing others from sin and from debt?

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