Jubilee


Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines.  For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. [Leviticus 25:10-12]

Have you ever wanted a do over?  How many times have you said that if you had it do over again you would never have sold that piece of land that had been in your family for generations or you would never have moved away from your home town, away from your friends and everything you’ve ever known?  Maybe if circumstances had been different you would have chosen a different career, married your high-school sweetheart or taken a risk and started that dream business.

We all know that there are no do overs in life but in the year of jubilee, it’s as if the entire community hits the reset button on God’s Perfect Economy and a whole generation gets a giant do over. Oh and while you’re at it, why not have a year-long party to celebrate?!

When you consider that when this law was first introduced the life expectancy of the average person was barely 50 years to begin with it’s not really mankind who gets the do over then is it?  The do over really belongs to God, as does everything else, and the jubilee is meant as a permanent reminder of just that fact.   It’s is as if God is saying, here’s your land, here’s your inheritance, do with it what you will.  Work the land, develop the land, use the land as collateral, even sell it to your neighbor if you need extra cash but at the end of the day, or more accurately at the end of your lifetime, I’m taking it back and giving it to the next generation intact in exactly the same way as I’m giving it to you.

Jubilee is the single most counter intuitive economic principle in the history of the world.  Nothing ever conceived of is more flagrantly subversive to either our ruler or caregiver mentality than the idea that all transactions of real property must be reversed every 50 years.  The only thing that comes close in any other human culture is the Native American practice of Potlatch found mainly among various groups concentrated along the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada.      

Potlatch has as its purpose the redistribution of wealth.   At the end of the growing, or hunting season, typically in the winter, the entire community would gather together and the wealthier among them would make gifts of food, canoes and slaves (but not income generating assets) between themselves and the lower classes.  In this way they supported their community while not damaging their ability to maintain their position within the tribal hierarchy.  But as with everything instituted by mankind alone, potlatch was open to corruption and many wealthy members of the community used their lavishness at potlatch to enhance their prestige and power.  It was not uncommon for some very wealthy families to literally potlatch themselves into poverty simply for the prestige they would receive from the community. 

Ironically Potlatch was banned by European settlers in the 19th century mainly because of the horror it caused in white missionaries sent to evangelize and civilize the savages.   One famous missionary, a Mr. William Duncan, wrote to parliament in 1875 that potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”  What could be less “Christian” than releasing your hold on material goods for the collective good of your community? 

Now to be clear potlatch is not the same as jubilee but I hope you see the inherent problem here.   Both are counter intuitive to a ruler or caretaker mentality and only make sense if your core motivation is other centered love.  The fact of the matter is that apart from the legal definitions and descriptions set down in Leviticus there is not one reference to jubilee actually taking place in any of the historical accounts of the Jewish people after that.  Why that is should be fairly obvious by now, not only is it counter intuitive to us today, it was counter intuitive to the Jewish people then and they simply ignored it.

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