The Joy of Jubilee
The Joy of Jubilee by Rev. L. John Gable
February 5, 2017
During the past several weeks we have been making our way through the Exodus story and following a theme that is woven throughout all of Scripture. Again and again, from Genesis to Revelation, we hear this three note chord: we find ourselves in bondage to someone or something, so we cry out for help; God hears our cry; and sends a Deliverer, a Rescuer, a Savior. We have seen, however, that these mighty acts of deliverance are not isolated, one and done, stand-alone events, but rather that God also provides daily provision and guidance meet our needs and keep us on the right path; think the manna in the wilderness and even the 10 commandments. These also are expressions of God’s on-going care and compassion. Few would argue that life would go better for us if we actually followed the rules we have been given, for there is truth in the saying, “We don’t break the 10 commandments, we break ourselves against them.”
One of the guidelines God has given us, for our own health and sense of well-being, is the law of the Sabbath. Once every seven days we are to take a break from our labors and we are given two very good reasons for doing so. In Exodus we are told we should take a break because God took a break on the seventh day of creation; the rationale in Deuteronomy is that we are people, not mere laborers or slaves, much less machines or beasts of burden. So the law of the Sabbath has been given to us for our blessing and benefit, and when we practice it faithfully it creates a rhythm, but that rhythm is not intended for us alone, but for all of creation.
In our Old Testament lesson we read a fascinating passage from Leviticus. Recall, the book of Leviticus is commonly considered the Priest’s Manual as it gives guidelines for worship and laws concerning how the Children of Israel were to get along with one another as they came out of bondage in Egypt and settled in the Promised Land of Canaan. In the 25th chapter we read the instructions God gives regarding the use of the land and two very unique observances are put in place: the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee.
In verse 2 we read, “When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a Sabbath for the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field and six years shall you prune your vineyard and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord.” The purpose behind the command of the Sabbath year, just as the purpose behind the command of the Sabbath day, was two-fold: first, it was intended to be a time of rest and renewal, for the land as well as for the laborers; and second, it was a reminder that God is the owner of the land and the sole Provider of everything that is taken from it. We are not owners, we are stewards and caretakers. The land has been given to us, not as a possession, but as an inheritance from the Lord, so we are charged to take good care of it since it still belongs to Him.
The Sabbath rest for the land was to take place every seven years, but an even greater event was to take place every fifty years. We read, “You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years…then you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout the land…and you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and family.”
In the fiftieth year, on the Day of Atonement, the day when the priest ritually pronounces God’s forgiveness of the people’s sins, the ram’s horn was to be sounded throughout the whole land, inaugurating the Year of Jubilee. During that year all of the inhabitants of the land were to return to their own property and families. Slaves were to be set free and debts forgiven. The intention of the Year of Jubilee was to restore everything to its original divine intention. It would be like pressing the reset button on your computer so that everything goes back to its original factory settings.
That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But you know what? There is no record in Israel’s history that this wonderful idea was ever implemented. This legislation was never enacted because what sounded so great in the mind of God sounded completely and utterly impractical, socially and economically, in the minds of His people, so they never put it to practice. Israel never had a Year of Jubilee. She never enjoyed God’s intention of being restored to her original state of harmony. She continued to live under the bondage of sin and disobedience and she didn’t just break this great commandment, she broke herself against it.
This year is the 50th year since the adoption of the Metropolitan Community Program Committee Report here at Tab, the document which clearly stated our intention to remain in place and do ministry here at 34th and Central, to serve as “a light for Christ in the metropolitan area.” As we revisited and recommitted ourselves to that vision this past summer we declared that this year is our Year of Jubilee at Tab. Let me read from the Vision Renewal Report:
“Just as the 1966 report reaches its 50th year, we wish to make the most of this occasion by echoing a practice from ancient Israel: the Year of Jubilee. Each year the Hebrew people were called to atone for their communal sins on the Day of Atonement, which, as faithfully performed, resulted in God’s forgiveness. Once every 50 years, this ritual of atonement took on even greater significance, as the people of God were called to celebrate a Year of Jubilee to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” During this Jubilee year, the people of Israel were to dedicate themselves to economic justice and solemn reflection on God’s provision. Land was to be returned to those from who it had been taken for unpaid debts, those in bondage were to be released, and families were to be reunited, and all were to keep the year holy as the Sabbath.”
Yet not only do we think this Year of Jubilee is a good idea, Jesus did as well. As Jesus inaugurated His earthly ministry He returned to Nazareth, His own home town, and entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was His custom. Serving as the reader for the day, He opens the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and begins to read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” After reading, He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant and sat down. Luke tells us every eye was on Him, then Jesus said, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Friends, Jesus was announcing the Year of Jubilee, the day of God’s deliverance. Good news to the poor. Release to the captives. Recovery of sight to the blind. He was announcing the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus is our Jubilee!
Jesus came announcing that the long awaited time of God’s deliverance had come. He was announcing God’s promised liberation, but He did so in a way unexpected by His hearers. He wasn’t just talking about political and economic deliverance and freedom, although He did include those. He was also talking about spiritual deliverance and freedom, not just for the people of Israel, but for all people.
Look again at what He announces:
“Good News to the poor” – Good news, the Greek word is euangelion, the root of “evangelism”. The “poor”, as we read in Matthew and Luke’s recording of Jesus’ teaching can be either “economic poverty” or “spiritual poverty”, as in “the poor in spirit.” Jesus came announcing Good News!
“release to the captives” – Again, these could political or economic captives, or they could also be captives to sin. Either way Jesus has come to announce social justice and advocacy, giving voice to the voiceless, and aid to the helpless.
“recovery of sight to the blind” – Jesus promotes a ministry of compassion, healing the sick and infirmed, touching the untouchable, opening the eyes of those who are blind, physically and spiritually.
“letting the oppressed go free” – another emphasis on social engagement, justice and reconciliation.
“And proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor” – announcing God’s love and grace and forgiveness. Jesus announced the Year of Jubilee!
Given all the passages that Jesus could have read to announce His ministry it is significant that He chose this one. To read it only as a political and economic manifesto would be to ignore history and deny the salvation He offers; however, to read it only as a spiritual tract would also be to deny the call of Gospel to be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world.
To be completely candid with you, one of the reasons I was most attracted to coming to Tab as your pastor is because of the long-standing history we have as a congregation for evangelical witness from the pulpit and social engagement in the community, precisely the balance that Jesus modeled in His ministry. I believe, as we believe, that Jesus calls us to both. I return again to the Vision Renewal statement, “So on this the fiftieth anniversary of Tab’s 1966 report, we celebrate our year of Jubilee, our year of seeking liberty, and our acceptance of God’s offer of freedom from sin and entry in to new life. We set apart this year for seeking renewed restoration in right relationships and justice in our community. We declare the year of the Lord’s favor as we keep to the path laid before us.”
In His life, death and glorious resurrection, Jesus has announced the inbreaking of God’s kingly rule in to our daily lives. He has come to bring the Good News of salvation to all who are spiritually bankrupt and offer release to all who are held bondage and captive to sin and injustice. He has come as “the light of the world” to open our eyes both to God’s truth and to the needs of our neighbors. He has come to liberate us from our fear of living and our dread of dying by offering us the promise of new life, abundant now and eternal in the Kingdom of Heaven. He has come to show us the way to live in right relationship both with God and our neighbors, by modeling a ministry not only of preaching and teaching but of healing and caregiving, and He calls us to fulfill the great commandment: love of God and love of neighbor.
Jesus came announcing the inbreaking of God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” He came announcing the Year of Jubilee because Jesus is our Jubilee!