Summary: Number 3 in a series looking at the imagery in the modern Hymn These are the days of Elijah, looking at the year of Jubilee and its implications both social and spiritual.
In a recent Peanuts cartoon, Lucy approaches Charlie Brown with a paper and pen and says, “Here, sign this. It absolves me from all blame”. Then she goes to Shroeder with the same paper and says, “Here, sign this. It absolves me from all blame”. Finally she comes to Linus: “Here, sign this. It absolves me from all blame”. As she walks away Linus says, “Gee, that must be a nice document to have”. And that’s really what we’re looking at this morning / evening.
We have been looking at the song, “These are the days of Elijah.” We have seem how Elijah declared the word of the Lord not only when it was hard to hear but also when it was hard to preach. We need to declare the word of the Lord, faithfully according to the Bible. Then we looked at John the Baptist who was a voice in the desert crying prepare ye the way of the Lord. And found that the way to prepare for the coming of the Lord in our lives was through repentance and the way to prepare the way in others lives was to preach repentance. This morning / evening, it is time to turn to one of those phrases in the song that many people will not have heard of, ‘The year of Jubilee’.
The year of Jubilee
We have read from Leviticus where the details for the year of jubilee were laid down. Basically, it could be described as a whole year of party. No work was to be done in the fields, slaves were freed, debts cleared and property returned to its original owners. It was the great equaliser. It almost turned the economic status into an episode of Star Trek. Why an episode of Star Trek? Well before we got to some of the later Star Treks, the one thing Star Trek was famous for was its famous reset button. No matter how bad the situation was, no matter how grim the problem was or how much of an advantage the enemy had you knew that by the start of the episode everything would be back to the same way it had begun. Kirk might have a new love interest every week, but come next week she would be forgotten never to return. The Enterprise might be damaged beyond all recognition but come next week, it would be back to its straight out of the ship yards perfection. The characters might be at each others throats, fighting over some really substantial issue, but come next week they would be best of friends again. The famous reset button. Everything returns to the way it was.
Or for those of you who don’t watch Star Trek, we could also liken it to games. When ITV first launched their digital service ITV 2 they had a programme called the race on. The idea was that there were 4 teams of two who were each given £100 and they had to race round the world having 3 days to get to the next place. Every week they got an extra £20 while the winners got an extra £100. Half way round they go to Australia and one of the team managed to not only save their money by finding a businessman with an executive jet that offered to fly them where they were going he also gave them so extra cash. However, it wasn’t that good for them as at the end of the stage all the money was gathered in and they were all given another £100. Levelling the playing field, giving everyone a fair chance.
Or it could be comparing the situation to a multi-round games competition. One of the board games I quite enjoy playing is Risk. The board is a map of the world, divided into many countries and continents. Each player is assigned a set number of countries and a set number of plastic figures representing armies. The idea is then to take over the world. Now I have a group of friends who also enjoy playing this game and we used to meet together to play quite regularly. One time we played an all night session, with game following game following game. The point is that no matter how badly you did in one game, no matter how quickly your armies were wiped out, no matter how many triple 1s you rolled in that game, no matter how bad your tactics were, you always started the next games, with a full set of troops and full set of countries.
The year of jubilee, the reset button, the great leveller. The thing that in Israel was supposed to turn economics from the dog destroy dog world we inhabit into a 50 year game with a reset button. OK so not everything was reset, money was not pulled and then redistributed, but your ancestral lands were returned, slaves were realised and unpaid debts were cancelled. It sounds great but surely it would have been unworkable. Well I don’t know about that, although it is actually doubtful whether it was ever implemented, there is no evidence to say that it ever was implemented and so see the 70 years of exile in Babylon as 1 year for every time the year of jubilee should have been celebrated but was not. However, it’s not quite as unworkable as it might seem. People knew when the year of jubilee was coming up and the value of things was to be worked out according to that. Obviously, no-one is going to give someone a loan for millions of pounds in December in the year before the jubilee. But this also extended to the way the “sale” (sorry Thomas) of land was carried out. Technically, the land could not be sold but only leased until the next jubilee year and the price that was paid was worked out in relation to this. So if you “bought” a field just after the jubilee year you paid a lot more than you did if you “bought” the same field nearer to the time of the jubilee year. It was reminder to the people that the land was not really theirs but was God’s who entrusted it to them. But it also was an economics unlike anything the world was seen before or since. It was not communism where everything was state controlled and you weren’t supposed to own anything or make your own profit. Your right to own the land and property were enshrined as was your right to make profit. But it was not un-restrained capitalism either. There were limits on what you could do, you couldn’t permanently buy up all your neighbours land. You couldn’t bankrupt your neighbours or competitors permanently. And you were to care for the poor and not take advantage of them. No matter how bad things got at the end of the 50 years, you would have the land back, be freed from your debts and what ever situation you had got yourself into and you or your children could start again. It brought hope, there was a way out.