The Law of Grace in Leviticus?!?
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the biblical concept of Jubilee these days. Mainly because we are using this theme for our September worship experiences! It has been a complete joy for me to be working so closely with Will Rand, our new Minister of Music and Worship Arts, in crafting these experiences! It’s so fun to talk in depths about such important spiritual concepts as Jubilee!
If you don’t know what Jubilee is, let me share just a bit. Jubilee is a Jewish concept that declares that after every 49 years (7x7) there was to be one year of Jubilee. A year where Hebrew slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, land would be returned, and the mercies of God would be made known. Pretty cool right?
But here’s something even cooler. The people of Israel so wanted this concept to be an integral part of their life. They so wanted this concept not to be just a concept, but something real in their life, that they actually wrote it into their laws! And where do you find these laws? In the book of Leviticus! I know. The one book I find so repulsive sometimes, actually has one of the coolest concepts in the Bible. I know, suddenly the book of Leviticus isn’t just a book that talks about the “abomination” of wearing a piece of clothing from two different fabrics! Suddenly the book of Leviticus isn’t that book quoted by the “gay hate groups” that try to use the Bible to exclude the LGBTQ+ community from families of faith. It is the Biblical vessel of the concept of Jubilee. It is a written document that records how the people of Israel tried to weave a year of grace and mercy into the fabric of their lives.
If you take out your Bibles and turn to Leviticus 25 you will read all about Jubilee. Turn to Leviticus 25:13-17, for instance, and you will see just how serious they were about Jubilee:
13 “‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property. 14 “‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.”
These folks weren’t messing around! Jubilee was turning the world of economic order on its head! Can you imagine the reaction this concept would have in our capitalistic world today?!?
The sad thing about Jubilee, is that although it was put into law, there is no historical evidence that points to the fact that it ever really happened. And I suppose we can see why? Folks get pretty possessive about land issues!!!! Folks get pretty protective when it comes to issues about money!!
But I still like the attempt here! The Jewish people wanted to write their believes into the very fabric of their lives. They didn’t just want to hear a sermon, they wanted to witness it…to see it acted out in the “real” theater of their lives!
And I think that was what was so powerful about Jesus. He didn’t just say it in the “Sermon on the Mount”, he lived it. He enacted Jubilee right before their eyes. He drew the circle of Jubilee into the very dirt of the lives around him. Right there in the ordinary, Jesus enacted the extra-ordinary. He took the abstract and made it something you could hold and feel in the hearts of those who met him.
When I was in ministry in Vermillion, SD, we had a Campus Minister named Rachel Harvey, who came to us from a United Methodist Women’s program called US-2. This program encouraged recent college graduates to do a 2-year mission experience in the US. Rachel’s mission project was the campus of University of SD. And she took it seriously. What I loved about Rachel was that she had a keen sense of the gospel, and she was determined to live that gospel out into the world. She was constantly getting into “good trouble” in Jesus’ name! There was always an edge to what she did that was just “odd” enough to make you think about your own life.
One time I asked her about where she got that keen sense of being different as a Christian. Rachel shared with me that it came from her father. Every Sunday, everyone else in her church would go out to eat after worship. They’d hit the local pizza joint, or McDonalds, or something even fancier, but Rachel’s family would never go with them. They always headed home. Rachel hated that! She wanted to be like those other families. Finally, when she reached 13, Rachel became brave enough to speak her mind. And one Sunday as they headed home after worship, Rachel shouted, “Dad! Why can’t we go eat out like everyone else? This is so stupid. We have enough money to eat out!” Rachel’s dad didn’t say a word. He just drove the car past their home and over to a local soup kitchen for the homeless. And as they pulled up, he said, “Rachel, I am sorry I didn’t share this earlier. But every month I calculate how much we would have spent on food at a restaurant, and I send that money to this soup kitchen. And until these folks have enough to eat, I’m going to keep doing that.” The next Sunday Rachel asked if she could go work in the soup kitchen. The gospel had been written in her heart. Her dad had made Jubilee real! May God teach us to do the same.
Your friend and pastor, always looking for ways to let Jubilee loose in the world, Brook