Fourth Wednesday of Lent
Jesus went to the synagogue and stood up to read. Luke tells us that the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll, found the place he was looking for, and read: “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” (4:16-19). Some versions have it “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus’ hearers knew what he was talking about: the “year of the Lord” was code for the year of Jubilee that had been proclaimed in Leviticus 25:8-13. Jubilee was to be observed every 50 years. In that year, which occurred after seven times seven years, a ram’s horn was to be sounded “long and loud” throughout the land. In that year, servants were to be set free. In that year, all debts were to be cancelled. In that year, land was to be returned to its owner, and people were to return to their families.
But Jesus was sounding a different trumpet. Jesus was making any year and every year to be a Jubilee year. The promises of Jubilee, formerly required only during the Jubilee year, were now available on demand.
In this, Jesus was declaring restoration for all to the life God had originally intended for us. Jesus was declaring equity among all people – and, indeed, among all of God’s creation. He was wiping out the burdens and misfortunes of the past generations; they were not to be visited upon present generations. Jesus was into “do-overs.”
Frankly, I see this as a better deal than having MasterCard reset my balance to zero.
The acceptable year of the Lord, said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on June 5, 1966, is “any year when men decide to do right.”*
It appears, then, that the idea of Jubilee can be bestowed by one man to another. Or one country to another. Or one political party to another, or one denomination to another, or one parent to a child, or one child to a parent.
Jubilee – the Sabbath of Sabbaths – was the great equalizer. Those with power were to give it up. Those who held authority were to lay it down. Those who held the collateral were to wipe clean the slate of debts. The advantage here seems to go to the weak and powerless. But there is much to be gained by the humbling act of relinquishment.
The question this brings to us, I think, is not for what do we need to seek forgiveness, but in what do we need to relinquish position? Where are the places in my life that cry out for resolution, for giving up of past hurts, for releasing any who are in debt to me, especially when I use those debts as evidence of what is owed to me?
And this question is to be addressed, apparently, not just once a year or once a decade or once a lifetime. This is the question Christ puts before us constantly.
The trumpet is sounding. Come, celebrate Jubilee.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Read Dr. King’s entire sermon at http://sowhatfaith.com/2011/01/17/the-acceptable-year-of-the-lord-rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr/