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Left, Right & Christ: A Book Excerpt
Luke opens the book of Acts by immediately setting the political scene: "In the days of King Herod of Judea". The eldest son of Herod the Great, King Herod of Judea (also known as Archelaus) took after his father. He was a repressive leader who carried on his father's love for massive building projects that exploited Israel's large lower class. Herod used his people to build structures that reinforced the power and status of the occupying empire. Archelaus ruled until 6 AD when Judea became a Roman province. Judea, at that time, is under repressive rule and people are being exploited for the sake of the expansion of empire. It is into this context Jesus is born.
Approximately thirty years later, Herod Antipas is the prefect of Rome when Jesus stands in his hometown synagogue. He is handed the scroll. He unrolls it, finds Isaiah 61 and reads:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits down and says, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." In other words, you know how Isaiah said one day someone would proclaim these things. Well, I just did! It's on. The year of the Lord's favor is on!
OBSERVING THE SABBATH
The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55) was the centerpiece of an economic system instituted by God as the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In this system every seven years the Israelites were commanded to observe the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7, Deuteronomy 15:1-18). During this year, all debts were forgiven, slaves were set free and the land was given rest from all sowing and reaping. In this theocratic agrarian society, Sabbatical year was a major regulatory act that imposed a yearlong cycle of rest for workers and the land in addition to the weekly Sabbath, which God instituted through the Ten Commandments. The Sabbatical year also affected merchants' bottom lines. Labor is a critical cost of production. That cost is a key factor in the ability of business to make a profit. Thus, we must understand, the command to free their slaves every seven years would have a profound effect on the ability of businesses to expand profits to the point of empire.
The Year of Jubilee came at the end of seven seven-year cycles. In the fiftieth year, not only would debts be forgiven, slaves freed, and the land given rest, but also all land was returned to its original deed-holders, effectively banning outright sale of land and only allowing land to be leased for fifty years or less.
This government regulation reinforced the view among the Israelites that natural resources belong to God, not humanity. We are simply the stewards of land entrusted to us temporarily by God.
It also created conditions that would prevent any Israelite household from falling into multi-generational poverty. After 49 years, even the most destitute would reclaim the land given to their ancestors as they entered the Promised Land. The Year of Jubilee functioned as an equalizing reset button among the Israelites, preventing the accumulation of gross wealth and the entrenchment of gross poverty.
While the United States is not a theocracy, Israel's Year of Jubilee offers a useful picture of the priorities within God's economy. In God's economy, unlimited business growth is not an expectation. Rather, God imposes regulations on the business sector that prevent their growth from reaching the point of empire. In God's economy, the well-being of workers and the land matters. God's regulations limit exploitation and offer conditions conducive to flourishing by providing Sabbath and Sabbatical-year rest for workers and the land and by offering Jubilee debt forgiveness for all those enslaved to pay off debt. In God's economy, there is no interest on loans to fellow Israelites. (Deuteronomy 23:19) In God's economy, private individual ownership of land does not exist. Rather, land is owned by God alone and exists for the common good of all the people and of the wild animals that live on the land. (Leviticus 25:1-7)