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Ron Sider: Equality of Opportunity

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. Leviticus 25:25-28

“Leviticus 25:25-28 implies that this equality of opportunity was of higher value than that of absolute property rights. If a person became poor and sold his land to a more prosperous neighbor but then recovered enough to buy back his land before the Jubilee, the new owner was obligated to return it. The original owner’s right to have his ancestral land to earn his own way took precedence over the right of the second owner to maximize profits.

This passage prescribes justice in a way that haphazard handouts by wealthy philanthropists never will. The Year of Jubilee was an institutionalized structure that affected all Israelites automatically. It was the poor family’s right to recover their inherited land in the Jubilee. Returning the land was not a charitable courtesy that the wealthy might extend if they pleased.

Interestingly the principles of Jubilee challenge both unrestricted capitalism and communism in a fundamental way. Only God is absolute owner. No one else has absolute property rights. The right of each family to have the means to earn a living takes priority over a purchaser’s property rights or an unrestricted market economy.

At the same time, Jubilee affirms not only the right but the importance of private property managed by families who understand that they are stewards responsible to God. This texts does not point in the direction of the communist model in which the state owns all land. God wants each family to have the resources to produce its own livelihood. Why? To strengthen the family (this is a very important pro-family text), to give people the freedom to participate in shaping history, and to prevent the centralization of power — and totalitarianism, which almost always accompanies centralized ownership of land or capital by either the state or small elites.”

Ron Sider in Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 78.

I want to lean into three ideas that surface in today’s meditation on Jubilee and its relationship to generosity and then conclude with a great Jubilee story from a phone call I got yesterday

Firstly, Jubilee reflects God’s generosity to every person and each family. Because “only God is absolute owner” people have “equality of opportunity” in a world that fights for “property rights” and does whatever is necessary to preserve wealth. As I travel the world, I don’t see much equality of opportunity. I see the “haves” hoarding and the “have nots” suffering. It’s not surprising the Jesus would launch his ministry proclaiming Jubilee (Luke 4:14-21) and why the good news sounds like bad news to the rich (Luke 1:51-53). It also explains why Jesus would instruct the rich man to distribute the wealth he possessed to take hold of life (Mark 10:17-31).

Secondly, the Jubilee provision of “returning land was not a charitable courtesy” and it was not optional. This reshuffling of property was also rooted in God’s absolute ownership of the land. When this reset happened, the poor celebrated not because their neighbors “gave” them their homestead back, but because God commanded that it be returned to them. Big difference! Jubilee aimed to prevent wealth accumulation beyond a generation. This relates to all of us as the economic and social patterns of heaven will likely mirror God’s design in the OT Law. Remember after declaring Jubilee, Jesus promised His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3).

Thirdly, “the principles of Jubilee challenge both unrestricted capitalism and communism.” While it is election season in the USA, elections in any society center around appointing people to power. God’s design for His people is to submit to His sovereign reign in our lives. This scope moves beyond capitalism and communism. God’s design  beats capitalism because Jubilee ensures opportunity for everyone, and it surpasses communism as the power is centralized in the hands of our just God rather than the corrupt elite. The challenge for the disciple of Jesus is to live in submission to His sovereign reign regardless of his or her earthly citizenship.

Here’s the bottom line: the kingdom of God has come. It was inaugurated with the advent, ministry, death, and resurrection of King Jesus, and He has declared Jubilee. That’s why he sets forth such radical instructions regarding property. Most will disregard them. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Wherever you find yourself on the planet, regardless of the social and economic structures in power, live in submission to the reign of Jesus and obey His commands. Most of all, do this because you understand that you are merely a steward who is responsible to God and because you know you will someday have to give an account.

I conclude with a story that illustrates the “equality of opportunity” dynamic of Jubilee. Just yesterday my brother, David, called me. “Gary, I got a great Jubilee story for you.” He went on to share how one of the students at Warner University who came from a broken home and difficult circumstances had shared her testimony at a recent event. Her faith and perseverance despite unthinkable trials inspired everyone. One couple was so moved by the Spirit of God, that they determined to pay off all her school loans, so she would be free to graduate and serve God free of slavery to debt. He was excited because soon the student would learn what happened! That’s Jubilee generosity!

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Justo González: Making it available for the marginalized

If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. Deuteronomy 23:24-25

“God’s ultimate ownership of the land also meant that part of its produce had to be reserved for God, both directly through tithes and other similar duties, and indirectly through making it available to the needy. A hungry or thirsty traveler could go into any field and eat grain and grapes as long as nothing was taken beyond what was needed.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:9-10

“Likewise, the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner had a right to a portion of every crop. This included the edges of a field of grain, any fruit that had dropped to the ground, and all that the harvesters left behind after passing through the field once.”

Justo González in Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1990) 20-21.

The jubilee provision of availability looks so beautiful, and yet, it strikes us as unimaginable in modern times. We can hardly envision someone walking into another person’s field and helping themselves to the grain or grapes. They would have had to climb over a barbed wire fence with a posted sign, “No trespassing!”

Equally unthinkable is the jubilee provision of gleaning. Farmers could only take one pass through the field. They were required to leave the edges for the needy. Because God owned the land, He declared that the margins of the field were for the marginalized, namely, the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner.

The aim of these provisions was equality, or in biblical terms, God wanted to make sure everyone had enough.

We live in a world where the gap between the rich and poor is growing, not shrinking. The distance between the “haves” and the “have nots” continues to widen. All the while, the instructions of Jesus (and those echoed by Paul and others in the NT) call for equality. But, because they are not set forth as law, most (sadly!) read them as optional.

Hang with me. I have a point. Many people in the generosity space use the biblical notion that “God owns everything” as a basis for instructing people to give. Ironically, that’s neither what God connects to that notion nor the focus of the jubilee idea. God looks at what we try to keep for ourselves and what that reveals about our hearts.

If we treat any portion of the grain and the grapes that we produce as belonging to us, regardless of the lip service we give to God’s ownership of everything, we reveal that we embrace the world’s thinking rather than the jubilee He has declared. Those are strong words intended to awaken readers to realize that our actions reveal our beliefs.

Followers of Christ make whatever they possess available to the marginalized.

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Richard A. Horsley: Keep families viable

In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property. Leviticus 25:13

“Two principles lay at the basis of the moral economy of early Israelite village communities. First, the land belonged to Yahweh and was, in effect, leased to Israelite families for their use…The second principle underlying all of the principles developed to keep families viable was that the land allotted to each family was unalienable, could not be permanently sold or taken away. As Yahweh declared: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (Leviticus 25:23). In the covenant made following the liberation from the ancient Near Eastern system of servitude, each Israelite family was provided with and guaranteed inalienable possession of a God-given right to land, which was the means of making a living in an agricultural society.”

Richard A. Horsley in Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All (Louisville: WJKP, 2009) 38-39.

As I study Jubilee and it’s relationship to generosity, I find a remarkable concern for every single person and every family. God’s care for His people runs so deep that He wants every person to have access to the opportunity to work productively and have a place to live. Don’t hear me making any modern day political statements, but rather, celebrating God’s design in the OT covenant.

While Horsley notes “it is unclear, however, whether jubilee was ever practiced” (48), we have been discovering that Jesus earthly ministry in the NT proclaimed, from the beginning, “Jubilee!” In effect, Jesus called everyone to the same two principles: firstly, to let go of what we think we own (as God owns everything), and secondly, to grasp life as faithful workers in His family (as He has generous gifted and resourced us to function in His abundant economy).

Some may question whether these ideas are relevant in light of the fact that we have moved from an agricultural to an industrial to a consumer society. In response, I say these ideas are as relevant as ever. Think about it. God still owns everything, and Jesus is preparing an unalienable place for His disciples (John 14:1-6). The only way to “keep families viable” in the modern world is to live like we believe everything Jesus said is true. Jesus has declared “Jubilee!”

Do this and together we will look like aliens and strangers in this world, but our example will be the greatest, most generous gift we can give those around us.

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Halvor Moxnes: Generous without limits

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:14-21

“A central point in Luke’s proclamation of the kingdom is the presentation of Jesus as benefactor, based on this proclamation in 4:16-19, with strong overtones of the Jubilee year renewal. A return to a situation of equality and justice for all, however, required a reversal of the present situation. Luke describes this reversal primarily in terms of socioeconomic relations within Jewish society, the relations between the rich and the needy, the powerful and the weak. Thus, Luke envisages a reversal that implied a central, forced redistribution of goods and possessions, prophetically forewarned in the Magnificat (1:51-53). This reversal was an act of God, and the divine redistribution was manifested through the acts and speeches of Jesus, the benefactor of humanity (6:20-26; 7:22; 9:1-16; 10:1-12).

This divine act served as the foundation for a new interaction among individuals and groups, likewise based on generalized reciprocity and redistribution. It was prophetically demanded by John the Baptist (3:10-14) and followed up by Jesus in words addressed both to His disciples and to His adversaries… People with resources are urged to be generous without limits. They are involved in a situation with great differences in power and resources, and they are asked to perform redistribution. The main characteristic, however, is the emphasis upon no expectance of repayment when they lend money or show hospitality (6:34-35; 14:12-14). The same structure is found in the exhortations to give… This emphasis upon no expectance of a return is balanced, however, by a promise of return and generous rewards from God…

Nowhere, however, are the needy urged to trust the rich. On the one hand, those who have resources are urged to give to the needy, but without expecting a return; God will see to the reward. On the other hand, the needy are urged not to trust the wealthy to give them what they need, but God who is the source of all gifts, as well as the daily necessities for human subsistence. What is the outcome of this form for exchange in terms of social relations? To give without expecting a return means to interact in such a way as not to make the recipients one’s clients! … In Luke’s “economy of the kingdom,” human beings cannot play the role of a patron in its traditional form. Instead they are asked to give gifts without restrictions, to redistribute without making the recipients their clients. Similarly, the recipients are not bound in gratitude or loyalty to the wealthy who give them gifts. God is the only patron; consequently, all people are His clients. And God will give rewards and repay the wealthy for their gifts to others.”

Halvor Moxnes in The Economy of the Kingdom: Social Conflict and Economic Relations in Luke’s Gospel (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1988) 154-157.

Today I fly home after a fruitful time of service in Canada. My daily study that results in mediations always seems to leaven, in God’s providence, my teaching and speaking beyond the preparation I have done. For example, Jubilee continues to come up because it characterizes life in the kingdom. Jesus, our benefactor, resets all social and economic relations and commands us to follow His instructions in order to grasp life. Those who empty themselves find they are enriched. They learn their role as distributors of God’s abundance.

So why is generosity without limits so hard for us to grasp? At the core, our handling of money shows whether or not we trust God to supply or needs or whether we trust in ourselves. Some might desire to slide into the kingdom by acknowledging Jesus as Lord while also exhibiting an unwillingness to trust in God to supply. I will leave such issues as their eternal destiny for to God to sort, but what I can promise is that such slothful stewardship will not result in rewards. We must live like we believe God is our faithful patron. Be generous without limits. Count on eternal rewards!

Do this, and you will thank me in 100 years and in 100 million years. If you don’t, you will regret it in 100 years and still be kicking yourself in 100 million years. How can I be so bold to say that? The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus reveals that the time to make obedient stewardship decisions, the time to redistribute to the poor and be generous without limits is right now (Luke 16:19-31). Those who don’t will experience and express perpetual regret. Don’t delay. I am not trying to rob you. I want to help you grasp the life that is really life.

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Jay Sklar: Jubilee and the mission of Jesus

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“Socially, the Jubilee emphasizes the importance of family… The Jubilee aimed to protect the family unit by eliminating debt, which could break up extended or even immediate families, and which to this day is a huge cause of social disruption and decay, and tends to breed many other social ills, including crime, poverty, squalor, and violence. By cancelling debts the Jubilee aimed to reverse this decay, reunite families, and provide them with a fresh start for prospering together on their own land.

Theologically, the basis for all these commands was that the land and the Israelites belonged to the Lord. By following Jubilee laws, the Israelites acknowledged the Lord’s sovereignty over His land and people, knowing that they would have to give account to Him for how they treated each. Significantly, the Lord’s severity is not limited to the land of Israel or those within it (Psalm 24:1; cf. Exodus 9:29; Psalm 89:11). This implies that all are accountable to acknowledge His sovereignty by putting into practice the above principles.

Finally, it may be noted that Jesus takes the principles of Jubilee and applies them to His mission. This is especially clear in Luke 4:18-19, where He reads from Isaiah 61, a passage that uses the language of Jubilee to describe a future restoration of the people of God. Jesus says this passage finds its fulfillment in Him, a fulfillment that shows itself in two ways. The first was current ethical practice. In keeping with the principles of Jubilee, Jesus did indeed show great concern for the poor (Luke 7:20-23; 14:13) and chastised those who did not (Luke 16:19-31). He expected His disciples to follow His example of care, and this is, in fact, what the early Christians did (Acts 2:44-47; 4:34).

But Jesus did not stop there; He also fulfilled the Jubilee principles on an entirely new level, by releasing people from physical sickness (Luke 7:22), demonic oppression (Luke 4:31-37; 8:1-2) and, above all, the debt of their sins, giving them present peace (Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10; 24:47) and a future hope that they were members of the family of God (Luke 15:11-32). Jesus started this deeper level of fulfillment with His earthly ministry and will complete it when He returns in glory (cf. Revelation 7:16-17; 22:1-5). And for this reason His people cry, ‘Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).”

Jay Sklar in Leviticus (TOTC; Downers Grove: IVP, 2014) 311-312.

Prior to leaning into the OT principle of Jubilee, I knew that it kept families together and unified the people of God. But, admittedly, I had no idea how central it was to the mission of Jesus.

What does this have to do with us and our generosity? To follow Jesus on mission means we get to bring Jubilee wherever we go, from caring for the poor to making known the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today I get to speak at Mobilize 2018 in Calgary, Alberta. It’s a conference for pastors. I am excited to speak on my newest ECFA Press book, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance.

What does governance have to do with Jubilee and the mission of Jesus? The role of overseers is not to rule over a church or ministry but to make sure its focus remains true. I aim to inspire them to that end.

Father in heaven, pour out your Spirit upon me as I proclaim good news today. Fill me with grace, truth, and love to serve the pastors and board members well. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Samuel E. Balentine: Memory of God

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God. Leviticus 25:35-38

“Israelites who experience crop failure may be forced to default on a loan, thus becoming in effect tenants on their own land while they work off their debt. In such cases, their creditors must amortize the loan (without interest), allow them to work the land, and produce what they need to live. All Israelites know what it means to be forced into slave labor that creates capital for an economic system in which they have no voice. It is this memory, and especially the memory of God who redeemed them from such exploitation in Egypt, that must motivate their compassion for those in need.”

Samuel E. Balentine in Leviticus (Interpretation; Louisville: WJKP, 1999) 196.

The last half of Leviticus 25 addresses Jubilee provisions in the case of people becoming poor. Their brothers who assist them are explicitly instructed not to charge interest or make a profit from them. This basis of this instruction is the reminder that God delivered the entire nation from oppression. In plain terms, God came to your aid in crisis, do the same for your brother.

What does this have to do with our generosity today? Everything. God’s design for social and economic interaction with those who fall on hard times is to aid them, not prey on them. This OT perspective appears in NT texts like Luke 10:25-37 where Jesus define what it means to love our neighbor by citing the example of the Good Samaritan. Our doing good should lift up the needy around us, especially those in the community of faith (Galatians 6:10).

But why do this? A similar motivation emerges in the New Testament. Our deliverance from sin and death was accomplished by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, in gratitude for the compassion we received from our Lord Jesus Christ, we show love to others in social and economic ways through caring and sharing. We must keep the memory of God and His grace toward us in the front of our minds to guide our thinking.

I flew to Edmonton, Alberta, last night to teach at Taylor Seminary this morning. I will speak on topics from my book, The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes. Reply to this email if you want a free PDF copy. I mention this because in ministry administration as well as our stewardship of personal resources, we can choose to follow God’s design, also known as “the kingdom path” or the world’s pattern, referred to as “the common path.”

When we lose our memory of God and all He has done for us, we follow the common path, which in this case, is to charge interest to the needy. We forget that we are here for a different purpose and to accomplish kingdom aims. That said, let me jog your memory of God. If you have been blessed with abundance, allow your generosity to help the needy freely. In your giving portfolio, include organizations that offer interest free loans to the poor.

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Gordon Wenham: Jubilee generosity

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. Leviticus 25:25-28

“The main purpose of these laws was to prevent the utter ruin of debtors. In biblical times a man who incurred a debt that he could not repay could be forced to sell off his land or even his personal freedom by becoming a slave. When left unchecked this process led to a great social division, with a class of rich landowners exploiting the mass of landless serfs.

This sort of situation has arisen in many societies, and even Israel was not immune to it, despite this legislation. Standards of house-building have led archaeologists to conclude that early Israel was a relatively egalitarian society, but that by the later monarchy period the gap between the rich and poor had widened.

“The rich houses are bigger and better built and in a different quarter from that where the poor houses are huddled together,” Isaiah denounces “those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room” (Isaiah 5:8), while Amos angrily decries those who “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6). Had the jubilee been observed, such unbridled exploitation of the poor would have been checked…

The jubilee year occurred every forty-nine years. If a a man went bankrupt the year after the jubilee, he would have been enslaved for up to forty-eight years unless a relative was able to redeem him; but if it happened at a later stage in the cycle, he would have had a shorter time to wait for release. Thus, about once in any man’s lifetime the slate was wiped clean…”

Gordon Wenham in The Book of Leviticus (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) 317.

In a world where debtors experience “utter ruin” economically speaking and where to desire to acquire leads to “social division” and slavery, God sets for a program called “Jubilee” because once in every lifetime He wants every person to have a chance to have their slate “wiped clean.”

Think about it. That’s grace in a world filled with greed. That’s why God would make such a provision. Jubilee foreshadows what Christ would do with our debts. He would forgive them, wipe them clean. And in the famous “Lord’s Prayer” he tells us, explicitly, to forgive the debts of others.

“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.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:9-15

I wonder if the present day Church around the world would receive the same scathing report that Isaiah and Amos delivered. At some point, someone needs to say, “Enough is enough!” Perhaps that’s my role. If so, I can only call people back to what the Word says about forgiving debts. This gets to the heart of the gospel.

In simple terms, if we have experienced Jubilee, that is, forgiveness of God and release from slavery, then we get to extend the same grace to others in tangible ways. This is not about earning your own forgiveness, but about showing we really received His favor in the first place. Do you see the pattern? The redeemed become “redeemers” of others.

God’s generosity came to you on the way to others. Don’t let it stop with you. That’s jubilee generosity!

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Luke Timothy Johnson: Mandate

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

“Inasmuch as all the people called into the covenant were to share in the promise, all were to have a share in the land. The attention paid to the precise allocation of the land to the tribes (see Joshua 13-19; Numbers 26:52-56) has the theological understanding behind it that each Israelite was to have some part of the land, given as a gift from God…

This view of the land itself as an inheritance, or as a free gift given in fulfillment of the promise had two implications. First, since the land came as a gift, there was to be no collapsing of private property: there was not to be indiscriminate use of the land by all. The warnings against moving landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14; Proverbs 22:28; 23:10) remind us that the limits of an individual’s property had been set by God and were not to be tampered with.

Second, and out of the same perception, any attempt to win prosperity by taking the property of another (in any way) was a direct offense against God, not alone because it broke a law, but because the property of a neighbor came to him as a share in God’s heritage…For landowners who had lost their property through bankruptcy, there was the mechanism of the Jubilee Year…The return of property to its ancestral owners is explicitly and emphatically connected to Yahweh’s ownership of the land (Leviticus 25:23-24).

Not only property indebtedness, but debts of every sort were to be canceled in the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25:29-42)…For those perennially impoverished because of their dispossessed status (orphans, widows, sojourners) the law demands a sharing of the produce of the land…From the demands of the covenant comes the mandate to Israel: “therefore, I command you, you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy, and too the poor, in the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).”

Luke Timothy Johnson in Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands, Second Edition (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2010) 83-85.

As I continue to lean into the idea of ‘jubilee’ alongside my word for the year ‘abundance’ as it relates to generosity, two thoughts come into view after today’s reading. They provide us a mandate for life in modernity.

Firstly, God declared in the OT that He owned everything and that property boundaries must not be tampered with. This leads me to wonder the implications for us when we act like we own property and when with acquisitiveness we try to accumulate more than God has supplied to us. It seems, such thoughts and actions actually destroy us.

In the NT, texts like Hebrews 13:5, reveal God’s heart for us regarding such behavior. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The desire for money and things supplants our service to God and we become overcome with discontentment.

Secondly, God desires that those who steward property consider even the produce it brings forth not as their own but as something to be shared with the needy. We live in a world that declares adamantly, “I earned all I possess. It’s mine.” In reality, all we have, and all we produce belongs to God and must be stewarded for His purposes.

So, what path should we take if we desire to exhibit generosity with the abundance God supplies? The head of the Jerusalem church and the half-brother of Jesus says it best in James 1:27. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Father in heaven, by the washing of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit make us into openhanded people and help us remain unstained by the world, so that our living, giving, serving, and loving looks like Jesus. Amen.

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Robert Gnuse: Restore balance

The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Leviticus 25:23

“[The jubilee laws] declare that Yahweh is the owner of the land, and Yahweh would assure the people its place in it. Land was given to families and clans, and it would assure the people its place on it. It gave hope to the impoverished by offering a promise of return to their land and a place of equality in the community. It became an aid to prevent the breakdown of the family as a social element.

The laws seek to alter radically the structure of society to preserve economic equality among all Israelites. The equality of the settlement period had given way to wide class distinctions in the monarchial era, and now this exilic legislation sought to restore balance between classes. The jubilee sought to prevent wealth from remaining in the hands of a few.

By blocking speculation in landed property the laws ensured to the peasants class, which springs from the soil, the right to preserve its identity. Not only did the jubilee restore land and give hope to the impoverished; it also reminded the rich that one day their own slaves and poor around them could stand before them as equals and free landholders in society.”

Robert Gnuse in Thou Shall Not Steal: Community and Property in the Biblical Tradition (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1985) 36-37.

The OT jubilee laws declared God’s ownership of everything. This theme also prevails in the NT (1 Corinthians 10:26). This idea was intended to shape how God’s people related to possessions and to each other. God desires that we preserve equality, or in plain terms, that we aim not at getting ahead of each other but at helping one another. It means we handle money in a way that shows we love our neighbor as ourselves.

This is where the Scriptures shake our proverbial snow scene. God does not like it when His people accumulate material abundance for themselves. Consider the words of Isaiah 5:8-9. “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.” The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants.”

So, what should we do and how does it relate to generosity? If you have a place to live, enjoy it and practice hospitality. Next, remember that God sees everything. So, if you are blessed with material abundance, don’t add house upon house or field upon field. You don’t need two or three houses in a world where many have no place to live. Share with God’s people who are in need (Romans 12:13). Someday that might be you!

A few years back I had coffee with a friend who “owned” three houses, one in the Denver area, one in the mountains, and a third in Mexico. He proceeded to tell me about the problems in the two houses that he only lived in a few weeks of the year. As I recall, one had pipes freeze which led to massive damage and the other had intruders break in and trash the place. He went on and on about his troubles. I spoke the truth in love in reply.

I reminded him that we become slaves to whatever we think we own. He did not own those three homes. They owned him. I urged him to give two of them back to God. Over time, he did just that and found freedom. What about you? Are you acting like you own anything? You can only find freedom when you restore balance, or in biblical terms, when you share. In so doing, you give hope, preserve equality, and exhibit Christian generosity.

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Walter Brueggemann: Alternative Economic Action

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish kin. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many; we must get grain, so that we may eat and stay alive.” There were also those who said, “We are having to pledge our fields, our vineyards, and our houses in order to get grain during the famine.” And there were those who said, “We are having to borrow money on our fields and vineyards to pay the king’s tax. Now our flesh is the same as that of our kindred; our children are the same as their children; and yet we are forcing our sons and daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been ravished; we are powerless, and our fields and vineyards now belong to others.”

I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these complaints. After thinking it over, I brought charges against the nobles and the officials; I said to them, “You are all taking interest from your own people.” And I called a great assembly to deal with them, and said to them, “As far as we were able, we have bought back our Jewish kindred who had been sold to other nations; but now you are selling your own kin, who must then be bought back by us!” They were silent, and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us stop this taking of interest. Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore everything and demand nothing more from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests, and made them take an oath to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out everyone from house and from property who does not perform this promise. Thus may they be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised. Nehemiah 5:1-13

“The complaint an indictment eventuate in a powerful imperative: “Restore to them, this very day, their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the interest on money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them” (v. 11). The required action is in this verb, “restore.” There is no elaboration or direct appeal to tradition. But the economic recompense proposed is not unlike the Jubilee year that constitutes a return of unalienable property, or like the Year of Release from debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-15; Leviticus 25). The scope of the restoration is expansive and focuses on the three great money crops: grain, wine, and oil. The restoration, forever, is to be immediate, “this very day.”

It is remarkable that the moneyed people whom Nehemiah addresses promptly agree to his urging: “We will restore everything and demand nothing more from them. We will do as you say” (v. 12). It is as though Nehemiah’s summons and his characterization of what has become routine economic exploitation was a huge wake-up call to his contemporaries. It is as though they had been lulled into conventional practices of extraction by participation in the dominant economy that led in turn to amnesia about the distinctive Jewish provisions for an economy among neighbors. Nehemiah’s summons was to remind them that they are not free, as Jews, to practice conventional extraction: they have a different identity and therefore a different mandate.

The dramatic exchange between Nehemiah and his Jewish cohorts is an affirmation that neighborly relationship (“flesh of flesh”) override the pressure of an acquisitive predatory economy. The recognition of those in debt and the acknowledgement of the mandate of God converge to produce concrete alternative economic action. The drama culminates in an oath to adhere to an alternative economic practice that acknowledges others in the economy as legitimate neighbors and not simply as targets of exploitation. The narrative ends with the assent of the assembly and praise to YHWH, the God of “no interest” (vs. 13). Such a doxological conclusion to an economic transaction is not normal. Perhaps the doxology is because, like the alienated son in the parable who had lost his way in an economy of self-indulgence (Luke 15:17), these economic players “came to themselves,” affirmed their true identity as Jews, acknowledged the neighborly demands of the Torah, and ended in glad praise.”

Walter Brueggemann in Money and Possessions (Interpretation; Louisville: WJKP, 2016) 94-95.

Today’s my mom’s birthday. When I think of “alternative economic action” I think of the example of my mom, Patsy Hoag. Rather than follow selfish worldly patterns, she always thinks about encouraging and blessing others to show Christ’s love. Happy Birthday mom. Thanks for modeling the message of today’s post for me.

Now to interact with today’s meditation. Three expressions from Brueggemann stick in my mind as I think about Jubilee and the alternative economic actions that God desires for His people to exhibit.

Firstly, Brueggemann notes that God’s people had been “lulled into conventional practices of extraction by participation in the dominant economy.” Forgetting their identity as people of God, they conformed to the patterns of this world. As the same thing happens today, like Nehemiah, pastors and ministry administrators must call God’s people to live differently! How do your financial practices differ from the world around you?

Secondly, in calling God’s people to “restore” what they had extracted “this very day,” Nehemiah reminds them (as Brueggemann put it) that God’s people “have a different identity and therefore a different mandate,” that is, to care for each other. We see this theme of neighborly love prevail in the New Testament too. Do your financial dealings reflect selfish accumulation or love of God and care for neighbor?

Thirdly, as Brueggemann concludes, “the recognition of those in debt and the acknowledgement of the mandate of God converge to produce concrete alternative economic action.” This convergence should cause Christians everywhere to handle money differently “this very day!” Is your financial house in order? Is it time to make concrete changes? Are you ready to give an accounting to God?

I used Brueggemann’s expression “alternative economic action” as the title for today’s post because that sums up the path I believe Christians need to take to demonstrate authentic Christianity to the world. Each of us is formed by the world’s financial ways that lead to death. Only in allowing God’s Word to transform us do we learn to change directions and take hold of life. That’s my prayer for everyone reading this.

Undoubtedly, it’s also my mom’s prayer from over in Florida. I love you mom! Keep praying with me for a revival of alternative economic action among Christians everywhere.

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