There are some folks who believe parts of Book of Leviticus should be taken literally and applied today, particularly in regard to sexual relationships. However, I don’t know anyone who wants to put chapter 25, The Year of Jubilee, into practice…and perhaps for good reason. It includes lengthy instructions which essentially maintain slavery as well as denying personal ownership of property. All of the hymns about The Year of Jubilee, including one by Charles Wesley, spiritualize the concept, making it about personal redemption through Christ’s atonement and ignoring the literal text of the Scripture.
But there it is, and if I am going to take the Bible seriously I have to wrestle with it.
In the 50th year, Leviticus says, land was to be returned to the original owners, families were told how to deal with those who had “fallen into difficulty”, and debts were to be renegotiated. Deuteronomy 15 goes even further, calling for the remission of loans every seventh year. Since the economy of Old Testament times was entirely different from ours, you can’t take these passages literally. For us today, I think they offer a parable about the importance of a well-ordered, compassionate community where caring for each other and freeing the oppressed so they can find a fresh start becomes a priority.
You probably know where I am going.
I’m not suggesting all debts should be forgiven, but in a time when long-term student debt is keeping in poverty the very people who tried to get out of poverty by getting an education, I think there is a time to say, “Enough. For the good of the whole society, we need to help you out so you can become a productive citizen.” Freeing young adults who are making less than $125,000 from a part of their student debt helps the folks who, as Leviticus says, have “fallen into difficulty” and in the long run benefits the whole community. It’s not unlike the GI Bill which assisted many veterans (except for African Americans) get an education and buy homes, or the communal life of the early Christians in the Book of Acts.
The fact that I and my sons have been able to manage our student loans from a time when college was significantly less expensive does not mean we shouldn’t give a helping hand to those who can’t. In fact, if you take the Book of Leviticus and the Book of Acts seriously, compassion for others and assisting our neighbors is part of our calling.
If we can build that kind of community, it might truly be a Year of Jubilee for us all.