Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying:
You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land.
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbor, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop years.
If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
This Jubilee proclamation (Leviticus 25) is echoed by Jesus in his first public appearance, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4: 18-19)
In a primarily agrarian economy which was the context of both Leviticus and first-century Palestine, the divine mandate to return land to families of origin (small subsistence farmers), forgive debts and re-distribute property is a corrective social contract to prevent the emergence of a feudalistic two-class system of landed elite and a perpetually poor underclass. It rejects winner-take-all economics in favor of a common good approach and this remains a bedrock principal of Catholic Social teaching.
The reaction to Jesus’ sermon and the ensuing exchange was fury, “They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”
Doesn’t this same outrage continue today for those who struggle for justice and directly address issues of growing wealth inequality and social exclusion in America? What would be the characteristics of a modern day jubilee year?
“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.” Pope Francis I
—John Sealey is the provincial assistant for social and international ministries for the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Jesuit provinces.
Lord, to follow you, we must be sensitive to the injustices both close to home and far away.
Whatever our particular opportunities or responsibilities, let us respond to social injustice with courage and perseverance. Never let us tire of working for a more just world with greater solidarity.
—The Jesuit Prayer Team