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José Severino Croatto: Jubilee Time

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:6-11

“Leviticus proposes a year of Jubilee (every fifty years), but the prophets proclaim the realization of the mishpat [justice] and the tzedekah [righteousness or ethical obligation of charity] that will avoid the injustice of debt, slavery, and the loss of lands and houses. When that injustice is already installed in the society, they announce for Yahweh a time of liberation that has neither dates nor calendar. We should always be in this time…if we hear the voice of the prophets.”

José Severino Croatto in “From the Leviticus Jubilee Year to the Prophetic Liberation of Time: Exegetical Reflections on Isaiah 61 and 58 in Relation to the Jubilee” in God’s Economy: Biblical Studies in Latin America, edited by Ross and Gloria Kinsler (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2005) 107.

This weekend I am attending the Society of Biblical Literature 2018 Annual Meeting here in Denver. It will be good to rub shoulders with biblical scholars from around the world and even better to hear papers offering fresh research and insights much like Croatto’s exegetical article which served as the source for today’s Daily Meditation. If you are reading this and attending, please message me, and let’s try to meet up.

Croatto’s research celebrates that Jubilee in the mind of the prophets is not bound by a year but becomes our way of living all the time. When this takes place, we thrive in the reality Isaiah envisioned. We spend ourselves on behalf of those who are hurting, needy, oppressed, and our otherworldly, charitable (think: grace-filled) behavior makes things right (think: brings righteousness) all around us.

Thursday night Jenni and I saw the stage production of “It’s a Wonderful Life!” at Front Range Christian School, where our son and daughter attended and where Sammy works part-time. The cast did a masterful job in a story that depicts the impact one person, George Bailey, can have on an entire community. He help every person have a place to live and food on the table after a day of work. It really got me thinking.

Just as George Bailey spent himself for Bedford Falls and contributed to its flourishing, we get to do the same thing where God has us. And yet, it’s hard, so hard that when crisis comes, we may, like George be tempted to give up. It will always appear absurd and challenge our fortitude, so re-read today’s Scripture to receive divine consolation and renewed courage to spend yourself generously.

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Pablo Richard: The Jubilee Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'” Matthew 6:9-13

“A schematic and literal translation follows: Our Father who is in heaven, Your name may it be sanctified (against idolatry), Your reign may it come to us (for life), Your will may it be done (against domination). Give us today our daily bread, Forgive us our debts, for we have already forgiven our debtors. Do not let us fall into temptation. Free us from the evil.

In summary we have seven elements: The concerns of God: God’s name, God’s reign, and God’s will. The concerns of the community: our bread, our debts. The threats: temptation and evil.

The community that prays the Lord’s Prayer is a poor community that needs its daily bread and is overwhelmed by debts, but it is also a community in solidarity with other poor people who are indebted to them. The taxes of Rome, of King Herod, and of the Jerusalem Temple were unpayable. Many lost their homes, their land, and even their freedom because of debts. The forgiveness of debts was therefore a significant liberating reality among the peasant communities of Galilee. the petition for the forgiveness of debts belongs to the tradition of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee. Therefore the Lord’s prayer is the Jubilee prayer par excellence.

The Lord’s prayer uses the same terminology and theology as the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-25). In this parable we have a king who forgave ten thousand talents to his servant, but the servant did not forgive another servant the miserable sum of one hundred denarii. This parable is found in Matthew’s discourse about the church (Matthew 13:1-35). In light of this ecclesiological parable and in light of the whole Sabbath and Jubilee traditions, we should interpret the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts” as a petition to God to proclaim a Sabbatical or Jubilee Year, a year in which all debts should be forgiven. The debt that is here requested to be forgiven is not a debt to God (a sin) but debts that the community has to other persons. It is a matter of real economic debts. The one who prays is a poor community overwhelmed by its debts (and also overwhelmed by the lack of bread, by temptations, and by evil in general).”

Pablo Richard in “Now is the Time to Proclaim the Biblical Jubilee” in God’s Economy: Biblical Studies in Latin America, edited by Ross and Gloria Kinsler (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2005) 51-52.

This exploration of Jubilee related to generosity has brought the theme to the heart of our Christian faith. The prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray emerges before our very eyes as the Jubilee prayer. It challenges us to care more about other people than money, to forgive debts because we realize that our debts have been forgiven, and to call for help to avoid temptation and evil.

While the social and economic factors of the Galilee setting differ from today, the troubles look remarkably similar. Most people have debt and lots of it. Some got it from poor decisions they made, a few had major crisis situations wipe them out, while others got there because the global economic system told them that everyone relies on debt to function.

So what does generosity look like in a world filled with debt and indebtedness? Followers of Jesus must proclaim Jubilee. We must acknowledge God’s name as Sovereign, that His reigns guides our lives, and that His will dictates our decisions. From there, we trust Him to supply, and we become a community that forgives debts realizing the forgiveness we have received from God and avoiding evil and temptation with God’s help.

The perfect picture of this community is the early church in texts like Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35. God help us become people who care not for accumulating possessions but share everything we have to help brothers and sisters who are enslaved to debt, as C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “even to the crippling and endangering of your own position” (87). Make us into a Jubilee community that shares generously, Lord.

Sharing in light of Jubilee is not you giving your money to me to help me because you are such a nice person, or vice versa. As God owns everything and since Jesus declared Jubilee, our openhandedness reflects submission to God’s name, reign, and will and results in restoration. This behavior is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit and sustained by grace, which is why the Scriptures describe “generosity” as a fruit of the Spirit.

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Ross and Gloria Kinsler: Supposedly powerless slaves

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them… The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” Exodus 2:23-25; 3:7-8a

“No one should presume to offer a panacea for the woes of today’s world, but it is our belief that we must all strive to find ways to live and act conscientiously. The dominant socioeconomic order, which is becoming global at an alarming rate and in apparently irresistible ways, may overwhelm and immobilize us. On the other hand, we remember that the biblical history of salvation begins with supposedly powerless slaves, aliens living at the heart of one of the world’s greatest empires. Surely the God who liberated them can guide us into responsible action for personal, ecclesial, and social transformation. At least we can learn how others are making space and creating times for resistance and liberation. Jubilee spirituality may draw upon and incorporate experiences and perspectives from diverse sources, but it will relate them organically with the real world and the grave socioeconomic and ecological problems of life for our own and future generations.”

Ross and Gloria Kinsler in The Biblical Jubilee and the Struggle for Life (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1999) 19.

Throughout human history, money emerges as the driving force of the world’s economic system. Those who possess it rule. Those who do not find themselves oppressed and enslaved. But God sees all this. Revisiting the Exodus account reminds us that he can deliver “supposedly powerless slaves” and help them experience abundance.

So the generosity that comes into view first today is God’s generosity toward the oppressed. He sees and has concern for the suffering. That models for us how we must live and act toward those the enslaved. Not only that He comes to rescue His people. Again, we learn that we might be part of the solution for helping deliver people.

This is Jubilee spirituality. It’s personal (that means it starts with me and you), ecclesial (which means we do it as a church community), and it transforms social settings (the larger society in which we as believers and our church exists). We have concern for the oppressed and we act on their behalf to help set them free.

In God’s economy, we serve God and not money, so we make money our slave and use it to show our love of God and care for our neighbor. In following God’s design, we go from “supposedly powerless slaves” to being freed by God to help set others free. God’s generosity has liberated us to help liberate others in tangible ways.

So, next time you feel you are too small to make a difference, or you think the socioeconomic problems around you are too great to conquer, remember Moses. In the Exodus, God raised up a man who knew he could not do it himself but thought it was possible with God’s help. That’s what you will find when you help the hurting that God sees. He will work through you to proclaim Jubilee!

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Karen L. H. Shaw: God has helped

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’  “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:19-31

“A rich person lives in grave spiritual danger. Among the perils he or she faces are the soul-destroying temptations to hoard, to become hard-hearted and tight-fisted, to exploit the vulnerability of others, to turn a blind eye to the plight of the needy, to trust in riches, to become deaf to the call of God, to forget that God is the giver and owner of all, to indulge in worldly pursuits and excesses, to give in order to gain prestige or position, to act arrogantly toward those of lower status, and to flaunt what they have. The wealthy can greatly reduce these spiritual risks by acknowledging God as the source and Lord of all, by trusting Him without anxiety, and by opening their hearts and pockets freely to meet the needs of others.”

Karen L. H. Shaw in Wealth and Piety: Middle Eastern Perspectives for Expat Workers (Pasadena: William Carey Publishing, 2018) 55-56.

At the Retirement Reformation Roundtable yesterday in Colorado Springs (the view of Pikes Peak from our meeting room is pictured above), I gave remarks and read from Luke 16:19-31. Many in modern times profess faith in Christ and yet accumulate for themselves while ignoring hurting people at their doorstep.

I titled today’s post “God has helped” (or I could have used the title “whom God helps”) because that’s the meaning of the name “Lazarus” in the parable, a rare instance where Jesus names a character in a parable. Why mention this as we continue to think about Jubilee related to generosity?

In reading Shaw’s new book on my flights to and from NYC this past weekend, I was struck that people from economically poor parts of the world likely perceive me as a rich Westerner, but the question I must lean into is this: Do they think I am godly? In other words, they are watching what I do with what I have.

Shaw graphically reminds us of the danger of riches. They can lull people to sleep like the rich man in the parable, which leads to eternal regret. My advice for everyone with riches, about a decade after releasing our accumulated assets, is to put everything you have to work for God beyond a mina (three month’s income, cf. Luke 19:11-27).

The risks, for you, your spouse, and your family, associated with holding on to wealth are destructive. I am not trying to rob you but help you. Practice justice and generosity. Be a helper for God. Use the wealth you have to bless the poor and advance ministry for God’s glory today as you may not live until tomorrow.

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Sondra Ely Wheeler: Five Questions

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. James 5:1-6

“These questions address three areas of economic justice: the accrual of wealth, its use, and its distribution:

Q: To what extent is the wealth of modern Christians the produce of injustice in the form of coercive or exploitative practices in labor, management, or marketing?

Q: To what extent does our material prosperity rest upon and help to perpetuate unjust structures and institutions?

Q: Can we defend the work we do in terms of its contribution to human good and its compatibility with Christian obligations to love and serve the neighbor?

Q: How do contemporary Christians make use of the social power conferred by wealth? Are our economic resources used to give unfair access to, or privileged treatment within, the mechanisms of law and government? To coerce the behavior of others?

Q: Do we hold idle assets that might be used to help those in dire need? Can we defend our share of the benefits and burdens of society as just and equitable?

Questions about justice in the accumulation, use, and distribution of wealth can also be addressed to the public institutions which Christians participate in and thereby help to support. Of particular concern in both Testaments is the potential of wealth for fostering corruption and inequity in the political and judicial structures of society… The test case for the questions about justice is the text from James 5

James draws upon Old Testament and apocryphal traditions to condemn the wealthy who hoard their goods and give nothing to the poor, who accumulate their wealth by cheating their laborers, and who use their power to corrupt the judicial process. The passage will stand for the condemnation of all kinds of economic injustices and for the retribution of the Lord of Hosts that is said to await them.”

Sondra Ely Wheeler in Wealth as Peril and Obligation: The New Testament on Possessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 140-142.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, and the head of the Jerusalem church speaks pointedly about not hoarding wealth. This passage was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for Jenni and me, a study of this text led us to distribute all our accumulated financial resources about a decade ago.

Candidly, we felt we had no answer for our Lord, should He have returned and found us hoarding wealth in the last days when we had been resourced for generosity. While advisors justified our behavior as “saving for a rainy day and for retirement” we were accumulating money in precisely the place Jesus said not to.

Related to Jubilee, justice is not about doing what is legally right. It’s about handling money in a manner that reflects God’s abundant economy and contributes to the flourishing of all. If your financial practices widen the gap between you and your neighbor, make sure you are prepared to give an account for your actions.

These questions aim to get people thinking and acting with justice while they have time. The Lord Almighty will hold us accountable for how we have handled what He has entrusted to us. Our actions and not our words will testify for or against us. I don’t know what “misery” awaits the rich but it does not sound pretty.

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Jake Barnett: Restoration of Wealth

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may confirm His covenant that He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deuteronomy 8:17-18

“Capital in the form of land was given to every family in the tribes of Israel. God arranged the economy in such a way that this capital could not be permanently squandered. If a family lost possession of its land, the land was to be returned to them in the year of Jubilee, which was to occur at 50 year intervals. This was not a redistribution of wealth as some claim, but a restoration of wealth…Jubilee was designed to make it impossible for the Israelites to convert their capital into consumption. Under this system, the sale of land was in reality a lease for the number of years remaining until the next Jubilee, and the price was determined accordingly. The land was to be the capital base for all future generations of the family.”

Jake Barnett in Wealth and Wisdom: A Biblical Perspective on Possessions (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1987) 78.

Within the larger vision of Jubilee, God generously made provision for every family to have land. The land functioned as the capital that gave them the ability to produce wealth. It came with a warning: the people must not to forget who supplied the power and who owned the land. They were to steward the land and all it produced faithfully.

This restoration provision ensured that they could not become a consumptive society with a large divide between rich and poor, but rather, an economy with widespread productivity and opportunity. It sounds totally foreign when compared to the economic systems of today, so we could be tempted to write off and abandon God’s economic perspectives altogether. Don’t go there.

Followers of Jesus may ignore but they cannot deny His explicit instructions that the rich share with the poor. This is not about giving a hand out, but about restoration that aims at giving a hand up. Jesus presents the Good Samaritan as the model and wealthy followers like Barnabas sell land and give the proceeds to the Apostles so that there were no needy in the community.

This suggests at least two applications. One, if you have excess capital, put it in play in church or ministry-orchestrated efforts that help the poor get to work. Two, if you work in a church or ministry, find ways to help the poor work productively with the capital God supplies so they can live, give, serve, and love like Jesus with you. We must realize that this cannot be separated from but must be integrated with discipleship.

And for those who prayed for me yesterday. Thanks. Preaching five services went great. I have a new home church in NYC with receptive hearts. Can’t wait to return on Thanksgiving Sunday. Today I fly back to Denver and spend the day with Paul Lenoir of Ehrenkodex (the ECFA of Switzerland) for a day prayer and discussions on financial accountability for ministries in Western Europe.

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Verlyn D. Verbrugge & Keith R. Krell: The ideal

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. Exodus 22:25

“There were occasions that could easily result in dire economic straits for an Israelite family (e.g. severe injury or illness of the male provider, natural disaster of some sort that wiped out crops, such as a locust plague), and the only way to obtain daily provisions, at least temporarily, was to ask a fellow Israelite for help. The ideal, of course, is that food would be given to the poor, but in order to restart one’s herds or plant one’s crops, the needy family would likely have to borrow (e.g. a pregnant animal or seed for grain crops). The laws of the OT did not prohibit such borrowing but it did prohibit Israelite moneylenders from ever charing interest on loans to their kinsmen. Moreover, the laws of the sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25; Deuteronomy 15:1-11) were years for wiping out such loans.”

Verlyn D. Verbrugge & Keith R. Krell in Paul and Money: A Biblical and Theological Analysis of the Apostle’s Teachings and Practices (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015) 266.

As we continue to think about Jubilee and its relationship to generosity, we see another strong connection to the teachings of Jesus foreshadowed in this amazing OT concept.

The ideal of aiding the needy in tangible ways and charging them no interest surfaces as God’s design in the Law and is echoed by Jesus when He pointed us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27).

Think about it in modern terms. A family member gets sick, has a car crash, or loses a job. Whatever the crisis, you need help in real, tangible ways. What would generosity look like to you? You need to be helped not exploited.

This is the role of the church. We are the Body of Christ, so “the ideal” must become the norm so people see Jesus in us. Like the Good Samaritan must “go and do likewise” and aid the needy around us  (Luke 10:25-37)!

I flew to NYC (LaGuardia) last night and arrived just before sunset (pictured above). I am preaching five services (with simultaneous translation) at Bethel International Church in Queens. I’d appreciate your prayers.

This is the first of three visits to this church over the next few weeks. My message is entitled “Stewarding Abundance” which will survey OT teachings linked to handling money. In a word, I’ll proclaim, “Jubilee!”

I plan to return on On 25 November 2018 to preach on “Abundant Life” summing up the Gospels. Then, Jenni will join me on 9 December to teach on “Sharing Abundantly” looking at the early church in the rest of the NT.

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Justin Welby: Small Steps

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Matthew 6:24

“What we gain when we give comes in many forms. First of all, when we give, we recognise, both implicitly and explicitly, that life is not a process of exchange and equivalence, but of abundance and generosity… Exchange and equivalence is a zero-sum approach, the notion that I what I give I lose to your gain. It implies a closed system. Abundance and generosity implies an open system, one in which the creative power of God is ever active, so what we give we gain… Mammon is good at arithmetic, and balancing the books, but very bad at divine economics. Mammon’s economy is based on the principle of ‘beggar your neighbour’. But in divine economics, where there is abundance and generosity, there is no zero-sum approach. Instead, we see an economy that facilitates mutual flourishing and the common good…What we give we gain…

Giving builds links with people whom we may not know and can never reach or meet in any other way. Relationship is hugely important in giving, but it’s not indispensable. We can in fact start relationships simply through our generosity… Money is part of the God-given economy of abundance which enables us to show solidarity and to build relationships… In God’s economy, the value of the person is not set by the money we give them, or the value of a nation by the aid it receives. The value is set by the very fact that we give, especially when we give sacrificially. The value of the aid, especially when it is difficult to spare, creates links that are far deeper than the money itself buys…

We need to train ourselves to see the world in terms of abundance and generosity… We should see money as an instrument that enables us to build relationships of abundance and grace. Abundance and grace call us to be generous and trusting, in a way that builds links and relationships. Trust in the economy of God leads us to seek to give because to do so is gain. The gain may be less tangible than our money was, and the revolution in our thinking that is required is enormous. We start with small steps, and will find that Mammon first shudders, then falls from the throne. No longer will his reign be supported by our own wrongful attitudes and the structures that dominate how we measure value and importance in our world.”

Justin Welby in Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) 107-129.

My recent study of the Old Testament idea of Jubilee has revealed that it finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ in the community of faith in the New Testament. It has also surfaced that archenemy of Jubilee is Mammon. This lead me pick the brain of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to discern how to help people dethrone it!

Central to the idea of Jubilee is God’s ownership of everything and desire for everyone to flourish. He values all humans equally and shows it by telling us to depend on Him for daily bread on earth and to trust Him to prepare a place for us for eternity. Our penchant is to possess, and the call of Jubilee is to give. Giving dethrones Mammon.

Mammon desires to own that which only God owns. It feeds on taking and accumulation. It thinks life is found in ‘having’ that house, that experience, those shoes, that car. Worst of all, Mammon whispers that you can have whatever your heart desires today with debt. It makes empty promises and then enslaves unsuspecting victims.

To grow in generosity this Advent, with the archbishop I say to take small steps. Celebrate Jubilee in tangible ways. If you have debt, say no to one or more purchases so you can live within your means to have margin to give and speed up the process of paying off debt.

For those with no debt, pray about helping someone else pay off what they owe remembering what Jesus did for you. As a child we use to play a game called freeze tag. Only those who were free could set others free. It’s a picture of our role in God’s abundant economy. Go! Help set others free this Advent. Convert whatever you own into the currency of the kingdom through giving and you will gain. Declare Jubilee and dethrone Mammon.

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M. Douglas Meeks: Mine and Thine

Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat. His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” 1 Kings 21:1-7

“For Israel and the Church as for much of the human race, property has been one of the thorniest problems of communal existence. Evidently, the distinction between “mine and thine” is as cold as the history of human beings. History attests that property is necessary to human existence, and just as clearly it shows that property has issued in misery and dehumanization. Human beings cannot live without property, and yet they can hardly live with it…

The household of God remembers Ahab’s attempt to annex the land of Naboth. Naboth will not give the inheritance of land to Ahab for money or exchange because the land belongs to God (1 Kings 21). The sulking Ahab is addressed by his wife, Jezebel, with one of the most telling questions in our memory: “Do you now govern Israel?” The implication is that the powerful should be able to determine property rights.

Jezebel arranges for the murder of Naboth by inciting the false charge that Naboth has cursed God and the king. The claims to and conflicts over property almost always entail God and patriotism, atheism and national betrayal…Once property has been authorized by divinity, it is something that can no longer be questioned. Property then becomes axiomatic, so foundational that everything else has to be thought of in relation to it…”

M. Douglas Meeks in God, the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989) 99-102.

Here we continue explore the theme of Jubilee related to generosity. This biblical text came into view for me in response to an email I received this week. A friend asked me about how followers of Christ should deal with the issue of ancient land claims of indigenous people. The inquiry pertains to property.

This question caused my mind to go to the story in 1 Kings 21 in which Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard which God owns and Jezebel basically says that “the powerful should be able to determine property rights.” Jezebel arranged for Naboth’s murder, Ahab gets the vineyard, then Elijah proclaims God’s judgment.

So what’s the lesson? It’s complicated. We must drill down to the bedrock of God’s Word to get solid footing on this one. All land belongs to God. It does not belong to you, the people who lived there before you, or any ancient people who dwelled there. I repeat, all land belongs to God.

Notice what God says in Leviticus 25:23. There, Meeks finds the key to the unlocking this question. “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” We (wrongly!) make property something that is “mine or thine” when we treat it as a commodity to own.

Meeks richly explains this at length in his book and anchors his views in the teachings of Jesus. He says “Jesus is not trying to do away with property…Rather, what is at stake is Jesus’ understanding of property as gift as opposed to property as commodity” (117). People cannot own what God owns and has given to humans as a gift!

Furthermore, it all starts to make sense when we realize that Jesus wants us to let go of any claim to any property and instead see it as a gift to be enjoyed and shared. Meeks points us to the early church, a multiethnic mix of people living together in harmony with no needy person among them. We see this picture in Acts 4:32-34.

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”

So what does that have to do with you, me, first nations, indigenous land claims, and generosity?

We must all view land as owned by God. We must live openhandedly such that we do not claim private ownership of anything. The property or things we possess are not commodities that determine our worth or identity in relation to others (defining us as rich or poor), but gifts from God to be enjoyed and shared together.

In so doing, we echo the “Jubilee” that Jesus proclaimed on earth and that we will experience in eternity. Then generosity comes into view as treating our neighbors (regardless of their ethnicity) as equal to ourselves, fellow humans, brothers and sisters. They are not people to be dominated, and we must not covet their possessions.

The biblical label for property or things is mammon. Jesus said we cannot serve God and mammon, so servants of God must hold a different view of property than the world. In short, it means we value people over property and demonstrate this by being generous with it in community as we live under the reign of Jesus.

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Philip Graham Ryken: Establish His Rule

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:51-53

“The Son of God had come to establish His rule with justice and His kingdom with might. This meant the overthrow of every proud nation and the humbling of every proud heart. God alone deserves the power and glory. Therefore, He must subdue everything and everyone that opposes His will. To be specific, he must humble the pride of intellect (Luke 1:51), the pride of position (Luke 1:52), and the pride of wealth (Luke 1:53)…

In Christ God takes the conventional standards of greatness and significance and stands them on their heads. The person He exalts is the humble servant who does His will. The person He humbles is the powerful leader who refuses to acknowledge His need for God. We see this happen all the way through the Gospel of Luke.

The rich man goes to hell, while the poor man is carried home to be with the people of God (Luke 16:19-31). The prayers of the self-righteous Pharisee are denied, but the sinful tax collect goes home justified (Luke 18:9-14). As Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11; 18:14).

At the end of the Gospel comes the greatest reversal of all: God the Son—who had once humbled Himself to become a man and then to endure the painful, shameful death of the cross—is raised from the dead in triumph. Having humbled Himself, He is exalted. Now Christ is busy turning things upside down in the world. He does not leave things as they are.”

Philip Graham Ryken in Luke, 2 Volume Set (REC: Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2009) 51-53.

As I lean into the Jubilee dynamics of the ministry of Jesus, I find that He sets everything right under His rule. We see this from the beginning with this excerpt from Mary’s song known widely as the Magnificat. The proud are humbled. Earthy rulers are brought down. The hungry are fed. The rich are sent away empty. All these actions put people on the same plane under God’s rule. Those that don’t submit on their own, will eventually submit by force. In the end every knee will bow and tongue confess: “Jesus is Lord!”

What’s this have to do with generosity?

God’s gift to the world, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, started this work with His first advent. In the meantime, today and every day with God’s Spirit within us, we help make things right by bringing justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, truth to the lost, etc. It also means that those who are rich must distribute richly or it will be distributed for them (Luke 12:14-21). God never intended His material blessings to stop with them, so we command them to enjoy and share all they have, and not to hold on to it (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Only when we understand that Jesus has declared Jubilee, do many of His teachings start to make sense. This sobers everyone, inspires those who serve humbly, shakes and wakes the rich, and proclaims hope to the helpless. Jesus has announced that He has reset everything (which is what Jubilee did). But His work will not be completed until His second coming. So now, we, the redeemed, have the privilege of generously participating with Him in bringing justice and righteousness to all people. Empower us to that end, Lord Jesus. Amen!

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