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A Fresh Start: The Year of Jubilee

I've recently been doing some research on the idea of the Year of Jubilee. The holiday is a command from God in the Old Testament (Leviticus 25) for the Israelites to reset economic opportunities every fifty years.

Property that was lost in ineptitude, stolen, or sold was given back. Loans and debts were forgiven. Slaves were set free. At the end of the cycle, on the Day of Atonement, all things were returned to a fresh start.

It's a novel idea in so many ways. First, what joy would come from getting a chance to be set free from the generational mess left by our forefathers?!? Fifty years is essentially only two generations. If my parents messed up, enslaving me to their debts, falling on hard times, burying me in mistakes and bad habits, I could actually get a new chance to try again.

Second, how bizarre and messed up it might feel to give up what feels like mine that I earned to an undeserving other. It is absolutely countercultural to consider that it might be my duty to repay and repair things my parents broke. It feels stupid and risky to hand over rights to someone who hasn't proven their responsibility. This concept of graceful sharing is an element of the collectivist culture found in many eastern societies, a very different view from seeing humans as starkly independent, both earning and suffering only their own consequences.

But what if humans don't actually function that independently? What if we really are a part of an intricate web of community, where we make a difference, but aren't totally extractable from the experiences of others. What if when we do well, we could all benefit. And when we fail, we all suffer? The effects of staunch individualism only feel good when you do well. And even then, isn't it a bit lonely up there are the top? Does it not make you just a little bit sick to see all those down below suffering?

I'm not making an argument for socialism. Competitiveness and appropriate rewards for wise behavior help us to thrive. I'm just saying those things have their limits. Apparently that limit is around fifty years.

The Year of Jubilee helps us remember there is actually great joy in us all winning together and that everyone needs a fresh start every once in a while. Though it means some of us would no longer be quite so far ahead, we would relish in our brothers and sisters being set free. Good for them is good for us too.

The most striking element of the Year of Jubilee is that it happens on the Day of Atonement, a day where the Israelites practiced solemn repentance for their sins, and grateful praise for the God who accepts payment for those debts. It was a day to remember how completely they missed the mark of perfection—and how good was the God who loved them anyway. That goodness and grace was exactly what gave the Israelites the gumption to be so kind to their less fortunate neighbors.

Unsplash Tim Collins

For more on the Year of Jubilee, consider this podcast from The R Word.

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