Consider a Redistributing Jubilee

I have been “jubilee” out as a result of the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Yet, after all the celebrations the massive challenges of our economic life are still with us. Perhaps an on-going party for the next three months may just be what we need to exorcise our massive economic hangover.

The constant referring of “jubilee” during the celebrations made me wonder about the biblical understanding and practice of Jubilee. Among the questions I am musing over are: what is the relationship between the year of Jubilee and our economic and fiscal policies? Should the jubilee principle become a fundamental part of the economic ordering of our world, what would happen?

The biblical references to this principle suggest the following mechanisms:  an opportunity, using computer parlance, to hit an economic reset button every generation. Instead of allowing the “sins” of past generations to fall on the next, which will only create more inequalities and systemic apathy, we shut down the system and restart from fresh. To make this possible, the biblical writers suggest concrete examples of  price control on the buying and selling of land nearing the time of the jubilee, meaning that the Jubilee offers a check to the sacred cow of market forces determining our lives!

But the most significant principle of the Jubilee is the habit of the redistribution of wealth. Inevitably, during the 50 years fortunes will be made as people trade and the poor would still be around. Yet the principle is that every 50 years wealth will be redistributed: those who are impoverished during the years of trading are now to regain what they have lost. If they can pay for the land they lost then they are entitled to have it back. Those who have become locked in a poverty cycle should be given concessions, such as interest free loans, and be able to purchase food at cost-price. Further, if anyone had reached the stage where they had to sell their labour as part of debt bondage that person should be freed from the debt and bondage on the Jubilee.

A “remembering” factor is at the heart of the Jubilee call: a call to remember that it was God who delivered God’s people from bondage and all that they have belongs to God. The biblical call for wealth redistribution – debt forgiveness – banking/lending regulation – price controls take cognisance of human weaknesses. For however well intended society and our economic policies may be, many people fall into poverty and dehumanising lives through no fault of their own. Recognizing this, the Jubilee seeks to spread that blessing around. Jubilee takes the good fortune that has fallen on the few and redistributes it across the community – for the common good. The goal is to break generational cycles of poverty and ensure that all can share in God’s abundance.

Are we able to make real the economic practices of Jubilee into a society that began in wealth disparity and already has generations of chronic poverty? How do we apply Jubilee to an economic situation that is nearing the edge?  Can the year of Jubilee and its economic recommendations shape the economic sensibilities of Christian communities? Like Jesus’ reading from Isaiah declaring that a Jubilee Year has arrived, the urgent need for the Jubilee year is upon us and that call is necessary and urgent. Wealth needs to be redistributed and the poor must be released from their bondage. There is enough for all!

©jagessar June 7, 2012

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