Friday, July 4, 2008

Justice Part 4: Jubilee

Jo Hunter Adams

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs- 1 Timothy 6:10

Themes: Wealth should be justly distributed, wealth as a deceptive master.

The concept of jubilee is introduced in Leviticus 25 in the Old Testament. Every fifty years, all debts were to be relieved, all slaves to be set free, all fields to lay fallow, and all lands be returned to their owners (this would apply to people who had lost land as a result of debt). It was meant to prevent extreme inequality (that we see today) from developing. This concept of finances doesn't necessarily seem fair for those who worked really hard to get what they had, but I think it speaks to the fact that often, what we have is not actually a result of our own hard work. Rather than advocating slavery for a generation, I would argue that the jubilee year was a reminder from God of how things were meant to be.

Today, many faith-based organizations are advocating for economic justice based on exactly this concept. And many Jewish organizations have practiced this concept for a very long time.

Thinking about how it applies in our life may be tricky. Maybe it means our inheritances could be given away, maybe it means that we should campaign for the cancellation of all third world debt, or maybe it just means being aware that we are seldom the master of our own situations.

When I'm thinking about justice and about giving money or other resources away, it's easy to feel a bit self-righteous. In a way, this is not surprising because it is always empowering to be able to give, particularly out of generosity rather than obligation.

This feeling of superiority is set against my own romanticization of people who live a simple life, with few resources. I dream of that simplicity, I say naively! However, simplicity should be a choice; extreme poverty is extreme stress, it is a life that is more complicated than any life anywhere.

These two feelings-- and my gut reaction to them-- can prevent me from being generous with my resources. However, just because financial support often comes with strings attached, that doesn't mean my giving must necessarily mean westernization or support of extremely unjust trade.

It could be different. It could be my response against those things, with the recognition that jubilee is slow to come unless I recognize I am the one who is to set the slaves free, I am the one who must return land, and I am the one who must cancel debts, even when it hurts.