The Churches in Canada along with other groups have come upon the biblical theme of Jubilee as a way of animating their faith life and re-animating some of their work in the area of justice. This effort of the Canadian Churches has gained a worldwide recognition and appreciation. Having worked in Rome for the past 7 years and having visited all the continents, I know of the work of the Canadian Churches in their concern for the poor of our world.
Having returned to Canada from living in the “new” Europe, I note that things have dramatically changed in many areas of societal life here. For example, at a meeting of Church leaders and politicians it was a believer, not an “official church person,” who gave the theological reflection that began our day. Her presentation was prophetic, insightful and awe inspiring. In the following weeks, I wondered if the Church officialdom had much to say to this new emerging societal reality. I did find in Jubilee a creative attempt.
As Judeo-Christians we are living in millennial times. Our context is not clear. A way forward is not immediately obvious. Biblical Jubilee offers an insight that may guide and give an important text to this our context.
Jubille inspiration most probably arose during and out of the Babyloniam captivity, a time of exile, a time of uncertainly, a time of yearning and anticiapation, in a way much like our own times. Like the times of exile, those post-modern times point to a diversity of opinions concerning the nature of reality and how life is to be lived, celebrated, cared for and shared.
Jubilee inspiration arising out of the Babylonian Exile has its clearest expressions in Leviticus 25. For us Jedeo-Christians however, Luke 4 quoting Isaiah 61 (a text also arising out of the Babylonian Captivity) calls us to an even clearer expression of the Jubilee message and vocation. However, this message and vocation is clothed in garments of light and shadow.
To appreciate a theological reflection around Jubilee, one must see two major events in the life of the people of God coming together: 1. Leviticus of the first Exodus from Egypt, and 2. The building of the Second Temple arising out of the Second Exodus from the Babylonian Captivity. We have a Jubilee theology in both events and probably – since the writing down was during the captivity and shortly thereafter – more influenced by the Second Exodus from the Babylonian Captivity. In other words, the real context of the Jubilee in not Leviticus and entering the Promised Land, but rather Cyrus freeing the Israelites from captivity and their going “home” to build the temple anew. This action provides a shadow side to Jubilee. While the prophetic consciousness of Jubilee leads to inspiration and gratitiude, the royal consciousness concerns of Jubilee – militarism, taking of the lands, forced labour – leads to opression for some. We who are living today have to own this light and shadow in our work and faith lives. If we are to use the scriptural notion of Jubilee then we cannot use it in a literal way. We must see the Jubilee as an inspiration so very valid for our times but having a very complicated history.
Paul E. Hansen