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Jubilee: the challenge for our generation

In a post-Christendom state, the biblical vision still has power to shape ideas and motivate action.

JUBILEE CENTRE AUTOR 337/Tim_Thorlby 01 DE JUNIO DE 2022 09:26 h
This year the UK celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. / [link]UK Royal Parks[/link]

It is the year of Jubilee!  

This year in the UK, the trumpets will sound for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. It’s a remarkable milestone and also a great excuse for a party and a holiday.   

There is another Jubilee too which Christians need to know about. When God settled his people Israel into their promised land he gave them a set of laws and instructions on how to live together happily and healthily as a nation.

One of the foundations of their national life was the idea of ‘Jubilee’. This still has relevance today; in fact, we believe that the time has come to bring ‘Jubilee’ to our own nation. 


The Sabbath   

A core feature within the Old Testament Laws was the idea of a ‘sabbath’ which created an important rhythm for people to live by. The sabbath operated on three different time horizons:  

  • A Sabbath Day – Every week the seventh day was meant to be a holy day, a day of rest when no work was to be done and the land itself was allowed to rest also 

  • A Sabbath Year - Every seven years, Israel was also instructed to give their land ‘rest’ and not to work the fields for the whole year. This year was to be accompanied by the cancellation of all debts between Israelites. This seventh year was called ‘the year of release’.  

  • A Jubilee Year – Finally, after every 49 years (after every seven sabbath years), in the fiftieth year, the trumpet was to be sounded at the close of the Day of Atonement and a ‘Jubilee Year’ declared (Leviticus 25:8-55). The trumpet used was traditionally a ram’s horn, with the Hebrew words for ‘ram’s horn’ and ‘jubilee’ sounding very similar.   

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you;” (Leviticus 25:10a).   

In the Jubilee Year, the Israelites were told to let the land rest fallow, to return to their ancestral family properties and to release anyone working as a bonded labourer. It was a major national ‘reset’.   


The Jubilee year   

Taken together, these sabbath laws provide a radical and profoundly important framework for Israel’s social and economic life. The Jubilee Year in particular stands out as the crowning glory of the Law.   

The vision for national life is powered by God’s grace and generosity to his people. It is no coincidence that the Jubilee Year is announced on the Day of Atonement – the day when the people ask for and receive God’s forgiveness for their waywardness.

It is only that strong sense of forgiveness from God that empowers the nation to participate in a radical act of wealth redistribution, as properties are returned to their original owners.

To those being set free and given a second chance, this is a day of liberation, but to those who had done well for themselves but who were called to give properties back, this was a day of sacrifice for the benefit of the community.

Only the deepest and strongest motivation would have enabled this kind of action – only a call from God no less.   

And what prize is gained from this national act? As the people’s relationship with God is restored, so all other relationships are put right also – with each other and the land itself. 

All of the Law – the religious and the practical – points to one ultimate purpose; the desire by God to live happily with his people:  “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” (Leviticus 26:12)  

But what are we to make of the practical social and economic actions taken in the Jubilee Year? What do they mean?


Practising Jubilee

We believe that there are three key elements to the practising of Jubilee:  

  • The Jubilee recognises that the land itself (the ‘environment’) has limits that must be respected.  The Jubilee Year gave the land regular periods of rest and recovery from their farming practices, providing for ecological flourishing.  

  • The Jubilee prioritises the long-term stability and rootedness of families and communities over the accumulation of material wealth. The buying and selling of land was clearly both normal and acceptable, but it was only ever temporary. The approach was not to outlaw markets, which serve a useful purpose, but to place limits upon them, to ensure that social purposes ultimately outweighed financial purposes. The Jubilee provided a ‘reset’. The return to family lands brought extended families back together again, and restored their links with the land that God had originally given them. Every family had a permanent home.   

  • The Jubilee puts God on the side of the market’s ‘losers’. The Leviticus passage says “…proclaim liberty throughout the land…” (Leviticus 25:10). The emphasis on liberty assumes that God is talking directly to those who are burdened and oppressed and need to be set free. It is perhaps hard to see how a wealthy family would welcome the Jubilee Year, as they handed back the keys, free of charge, for the properties they had amassed – although of course they retain their own property. Does this seem unfair to us? It underlines the message that the accumulation of material wealth is not the ultimate purpose of national life. In terms of land and wealth, there is such a thing as ‘enough’. It also protects the market’s winners from the dangers that too much wealth can pose for a healthy faith in God.    


 A Jubilee for our generation  

Jesus announced the start of his public ministry by reading from Isaiah and announcing “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4: 14-21).

Jesus declares to the stunned crowd in Nazareth that the “year of the Lord’s favour” has arrived. Another translation of this is ‘the year of Jubilee’. Jesus brings Jubilee to the world.    

So, what does this mean for us, today?  

We believe that the biblical vision of society, and the idea of Jubilee, still have relevance and power today.

In a post-Christendom state we are unlikely to shape and impose a national framework as in the days of the Old Testament, but the biblical vision still has power to shape ideas and motivate action.

The Jubilee Centre’s ambition is to work with others to bring a new ‘Jubilee’ to the UK.  

In particular, we want to work with churches and other partners to address the way our marketplace works – to strengthen our social fabric, bring environmental responsibility and economic justice.  

We believe that the Church in the UK has a key role to play in engaging more fully with businesses, workers and the marketplace.

Millions of Christians work in the private sector already. There is great potential for the Church to deepen its discipleship and contribute to the cultural renewal of our nation.

It is the defining challenge for our generation; let’s bring Jubilee to the UK.     

This was written by Tim Thorlby, Director of the Jubilee Centre, drawing on original research by Dr Matt Williams, Jubilee Centre Head of Biblical Insight.

This article was first published on the website of the Jubilee Centre and re-published with permission.




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