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Foundational Jubilee Texts in the Bible

Jubilee economics is an economic model, named after the biblical jubilee year, which is scaled to fit our one planet home. The structures of a jubilee economy give all humans and creatures access to Creation’s abundance, an abundance within the limits of Earth’s capacities and distributed democratically so that all have enough.

Sometimes contrasts help us understand. It contrasts with state controlled or corporate controlled economies or any centrally-controlled economy, be they bent toward what we frequently call socialism or capitalism. These texts variously imagine or prescribe the jubilee model as an alternative to the common practices of the culture.

  1. Leviticus 25 is the Jubilee Year passage and the prohibition of the private ownership of land explained. Crops are “owned”; land belongs to Yahweh. 
  2. Deuteronomy 15 is an important seventh year or Sabbath year debt cancellation/forgiveness statement.
  3. Exodus 16 is an important seventh day or Sabbath day story in which each day ENOUGH is provided from the abundance of the wilderness, but accumulation of “wealth” is restricted—not possible in this case. This story is later cited by Jesus in John 6 following the special feeding story of a multitude and again in II Corinthians 8 when a “jubilee sharing” is being encouraged between followers of the Way of Jesus in Corinth and those in Jerusalem.
  4. Nehemiah 5 uses the jubilee model to teach and explain just economics as people who decided to take up Persian Emperor Cyrus’ offer and pull up from Babylon where they’d been and relocate to their homeland. But, of course, there were inhabitants there, so new arrivals from Babylon, even if historically they had come from the region, created issues. It was the jubilee economic model by which Nehemiah sought to settle those disputes. He tried to get all, Jew and others, to agree to a jubilee economy.
  5. Isaiah 58 (all) and 61:1-3 present a poetic, prophetic rendition of a jubilee economy. Instead of a jubilee 50th year, Isaiah suggests living “an acceptable year of the Lord” every year. He uses the jubilee model, itemizing some of its key themes in the poetry of Hebrew parallelism.
  6. Luke 4:16-21—When Luke, writing after empire has destroyed Jerusalem and Temple, presents Jesus in a “gospel, ” he begins Jesus’ ministry in his hometown and there Jesus reads the jubilee passage from Isaiah 61, but curiously includes a line also from Isaiah 58, connecting those two passages quite explicitly. Luke continues to present the life and ministry of Jesus as an incarnation of the jubilee economy as he brings good news to the poor in contrast to the domination economics of Rome’s empire, the superpower of the day. He opens the eyes of the blind—sometimes the physical eyes with which we see, but far more often the inner eyes of illumination or consciousness by which we see the world differently—especially differently from empires or superpowers. He teaches his disciples to pray for a jubilee economy in what we call the Lord’s Prayer, including themes of hallowing or making sacred the divine name on earth where the rulers (political and economic) seek divine right and authority; daily bread instead of accumulated wealth; forgiving or canceling debt (moral and economic); an appeal for the coming of the kingdom which embodied an economy of commonwealth for the common good instead of private wealth and vast inequalities.
  7. Acts 2, 4, and continuing—The Spirit comes upon people (echoing Isaiah 61 and Luke 4) and when she/it (Spirit is feminine in Hebrew; neuter in Greek; never masculine) does, people convert from the Spirit of the Age or the Spirit of the Times to the Spirit of Yahweh. New behaviors include prolific sharing of houses, teachings, daily bread, and holding things in common. Sharing/cooperation/ community, what is embodied in the Greek word koinonia, is a 180 degree conversion from the habits of accumulation/competition/privatization that is practiced in the economies of superpowers, empires, and corporate-controlled economies.

If you are part of a congregation and want to think about structuring the institution and its discipleship training according to Sabbath-jubilee, you can download for free a .pdf guide entitled Inviting the Sabbath-Jubilee to Shape Our Congregation.

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