“The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
How do we overlook the teaching of Jubilee in Jesus’ messages, sermons, and conversations in the gospels? I’m realizing Jubilee, if not spoken of directly by Jesus (Luke 4:19), was at the root of a lot of his teachings and conversations with people. For example, the conversation Jesus had with the rich guy in Luke 18. The conversation went something like this,
“Jesus, how do I inherit eternal life?”
“You know the commandments…”
“Yes I do! And I’ve kept them since I was a boy!”
“Not really. You lack one thing… Sell everything and give it to the poor.”
I love the commentary you might usually get from people about this passage: “Well, he only was trying to prove the point that money was the rich man’s god. Jesus isn’t actually telling him to sell everything.” No, he was telling him to sell everything, that’s why he said, “Sell everything and give it to the poor.” In essence, Jesus is telling him, “Yes, you have broken the Law. You haven’t practiced Jubilee.” (James 2:10 – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”)
How about: “This doesn’t mean we have to sell everything to be right with God.” Sure, but how are we exempt from keeping the whole Law and practicing Jubilee (as the rich man failed to do)?
This passage is so much deeper than Jesus speaking only to this man’s personal salvation or the rich’s inability to serve two masters. It’s about the reordering of the entire economy back to the way God designed it in Deuteronomy. There’s so much within this that I struggle with. How is a non-Jew (me) living in a non-theocratic nation (United States) supposed to view and follow the Law of Moses, particularly things like Jubilee?
One guy that got it was Zaccheaus. After a lifetime of stealing, hoarding wealth and using his power to exploit his own people, Zaccheaus finally gets it. Luke doesn’t say what Jesus and Zaccheaus talked about over lunch and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I’d love to know what Jesus said that got through to him. Whatever it was, Zaccheaus declares he’ll give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he has cheated four fold. My amazing new IV commentary makes the point that Zaccheaus goes above and beyond the restitution the law required (Lev. 6 required full reimbursement to the defrauded plus 20% interest). Jubilee was at work, the economy was reordered, those he cheated were perhaps freed from poverty, and we absolutely can’t forget Jubilee freed the rich guy from bondage to money he didn’t even need. Yet, for some reason, I still want to be rich.