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Rev Paul Clark. Photo: Supplied

The Jubilee and today’s pandemic

Redcliffe Uniting Church Minister Rev Paul Clark explores the biblical rules surrounding Jubilee and wonders whether there are lessons to learn for today’s church in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic we are tempted to ask, “Is this a punishment from God? Where is God in this time? Is God telling us something?” Perhaps the Jubilee is a helpful way to look at things.

Tucked away in the laws to build a new society, in the book of Leviticus, right near the end of the book (Chapter 25), are rules pertaining to this thing called the year of Jubilee.

Every seven years the Israelites were to let the land lay fallow; that is, not plant anything to give the land a rest. It was called a Sabbath year (farmers actually follow this practice today taking it in turns to let a field sit idle for a season to renew its nutrients and biodiversity). Then, after seven lots of Sabbath years (the 50th year) God said to sound the trumpet on the day of Atonement and declare that year a year of Jubilee (the word “Jubilee” is derived from the Hebrew for ram’s horn signifying a proclamation of a celebration or good news).

During the Jubilee no one was to do any agricultural work. The society was to trust God to provide eating what grew naturally. Land was to be restored to its original clan owner. Slaves were to be set free. Debt paid off.

It seems that God knew, whatever economic system we humans would put in place, it would need a reset after 50 years. Inequality and exploitation would grow. The environment was going to need a rest. Emotionally, we would need to get off our treadmills and get out of our ruts for society to thrive.

There is scant evidence that Israel was ever brave enough to enact the Jubilee; they had to trust that without planting a crop, God would look after them! They had to give up their slaves and accumulated wealth!

But the Jubilee became a potent image of God’s redemptive plans; one day there would be a Jubilee—debts forgiven, slaves set free—declared on the day of Atonement! Jesus is our Jubilee.

If God’s creation reveals God’s character [Rom 1:20], it makes sense that this idea of Jubilee is built into our world. Our world needs a rest from time to time. Creation is groaning from the burden of sin [Rom 8:22]. Rather than God acting, is the current pandemic creation’s way of saying, “Enough! Give me a break”?  If we won’t take a sabbath rest, if we won’t take a Jubilee, God’s creation will force us into one?

It seems quite amazing how only a few months have reduced pollution and improved air quality. How quickly wildlife has return to inhospitable places. How carbon emissions have fallen and the climate begun to relax. I’m not suggesting these gains are permanent, but perhaps it won’t take as much to do something about climate change, environmental damage and economic inequality as we think, if we worked with our world rather than against?

Is this a chance for us to reset the inequality and exploitation that is in our world that we have taken for granted? A chance for the church to reset, re-focus and think about our mission? 

How about us? You? Is this God’s world getting you off the treadmill and out of your consumer driven ruts? Challenging your values? Giving you a moment to set yourself free of your demons? Is this God giving you a chance to be forgiven and start anew?

Will we look back on 2020 as a blip in the program, or the year that changed everything? The change God gave us to be redeemed.

Rev Paul Clark

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