Read: Leviticus 25:8-10
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.
God’s mission to redeem the world took shape in the calling of a particular people. The Israelites lived out their vocation as the people of God within a fragile agrarian economy. Poverty, destitution, and crushing debt were only one bad harvest away. Even the hardest working farmers could fall prey to drought or pestilence, ruining their crop and setting them on a downward spiral into lifelong and even trans-generational poverty.
The prescriptions for the year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25 remind the Israelites that crushing trans-generational poverty is not God’s best hope for them. Agricultural failures should not condemn a family to generations of debt-based slavery. The Jubilee further reminds the Israelites that they are but tenants on land that is ultimately God’s. Even in that time before God restores the abundance of the garden, the people of God are to manifest the generosity that God has shown them.
The prophet Amos, among others, makes it plain that time and again the people of God failed to manifest the generosity of God. This corrupts and distorts their relations with God, with each other and with creation. The litany of sins in the Ash Wednesday service echoes Amos’ indictment of Israelite economic and religious life. These failings are only intensified as various world powers come to occupy the Promised Land, exploiting the land and its people for their own benefit.
Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 832)
Stephen Fowl is a professor of theology at Loyola University in Maryland.