“Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you,” (Leviticus 25:10).
Hidden in the scriptures that people often skip, God reveals a radical plan of social equity and freedom for the Israelites and the marginalized people in their community. Leviticus 25 describes how every 50th year would serve as a social and economic reset. In dealings with servants or with property, the Israelites were commanded not to rule over each other ruthlessly or take advantage of each other, but to offer redemption. Wealth was not only redistributed, but “if any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you,” (Leviticus 25:35).
How foreign this seems compared to our American worldview where, even when coupled with Christian Evangelicalism, rugged individualism is the reigning ideology. Love of the self and money almost always transcends the love of our neighbor. Furthermore, the praise of past America’s “rugged individualism” oftentimes includes a blatant erasure of the harm done to indigenous communities by those “trailblazing” individuals. In light of the year of Jubilee, I question if a God who commanded the reallocation of land would support Manifest Destiny or Westward expansion. Ultimately, our systematic disparity between people groups by class, race and gender identity stands diametrically opposed to the “Year of Jubilee” commanded by the Lord in Leviticus and is antithetical to the Christian call to inclusive community.
Jesus fully embodied the core purpose of the Year of Jubilee in Luke 4. Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor, referencing Isaiah 61, claiming his role in setting the oppressed free. While a spiritual interpretation of this verse applies — through Jesus we are set free from sin — liberation in Christ may also be thought of as literal, because sin has literal implications. The pervasive injustices in our world taken as simply a part of living “after the fall” do not have to be accepted or ignored. Freedom and equality can be realized now, not just in however you imagine the afterlife.
Black Liberation theologist James H. Cone wrote that the gospel “is a message about the ghetto, and all other injustices done in the name of democracy and religion to further the social, political and economic interests of the oppressor.” He claims that “in Christ, God enters human affairs and takes sides with the oppressed.” The gospels show time and time again Jesus taking sides with those who are marginalized. We see Jesus’ heart for the oppressed through his encounters with the woman at the well, a man with leprosy or even a group of 12 misfits: a cohort made up of fishermen, religious radicals and tax collectors, who together may represent the class struggle of Jesus’ day.
And with his band of misfits, Jesus celebrated. I can envision Jesus acting as a host, sitting at a table lined with people made in the image of his father, who were cast off as sinners with no regard. We ask you to join us at the table this year. Despite the weight of being in a world riddled with injustices, there are reasons to celebrate. Life itself is an occasion. We invite you to consider every sunrise and sunset, life-giving conversation or cup of coffee with a friend this year as a little celebration. Our God is a God of celebration. This year can be the wedding at Cana, the shepherd who found the lost sheep, or the party thrown by a father at the return of his prodigal son.
The Black Student Association (BSA) theme for this year is Jubilee. We want to engage in tough conversations, examining ways that we can achieve those Christian ideas of justice, freedom and equality in a way that is literal and actionable. However, an integral part of progress is celebration. Progress can be a long and arduous journey, focused primarily on justice not yet achieved. But, looking back and looking around at our peers and professors at this University, I see overflowing cause for celebration. As Harding approaches its centennial year, a Jubilee is upon us. I ask you to consider this: How far have we come, where are we now and where are we going?