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Jubilee 2025

David Cowles

Jun 27, 2024

“Every 50 years we get a collective do-over! Golfers will recognize this as ‘Taking a Mulligan.’”

I don’t care what you say, we’re in a pickle! We have been entrusted with a body of knowledge that is profoundly revolutionary, politically intolerable, and contrary to 500 years of so-called ‘accumulated wisdom’ (1500 – 2000 CE). 

We dare not proclaim this knowledge openly, so we speak in vague, euphemistic terms so as not to offend anyone’s secular sensibilities. For example, we’ve reduced Eucharist from ‘Transubstantiation’ to an ‘Expression of God’s Love’. So when I read this recent Vatican press release announcing that 2025 would be a Jubilee Year, I was not in the least surprised:

“VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commanded his people to observe a Jubilee as a time to restore their relationships with God, with other people and with the land. Especially since St. John Paul II proclaimed the Holy Year 2000, part of the Catholic Church's Jubilee efforts to repair those relationships has included working for the forgiveness or just restructuring of the foreign debt of the world's poorest countries.”

There is no more radical idea in all of social philosophy than the concept of Jubilee, yet somehow the Church has managed to boil it down to an NPR-like segment on ‘debt restructuring’. 

According to Torah, every 7th day is a Sabbath, every 7th year is a Sabbatical Year, and immediately after the 7th Sabbatical Year…Jubilee! That’s some build-up for ‘a time to restore relationships’. If you have a sense that the real story somehow got buried, you’re right! Let’s compare what Torah actually has to say about this so-called ‘time to restore relationships’:

“You shall count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – such that the seven weeks of years amounts to forty-nine years…You shall treat this fiftieth year as sacred. You shall proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you…In this year of Jubilee, then, each of you shall return to your own property…The land shall not be sold irrevocably; for the land is mine, and you are but resident aliens and under my authority.” Leviticus (25)

In other words, every 50 years we get a collective do-over! Golfers will recognize this as Taking a Mulligan. Assuming Normal Life Expectancy (even by 1st century standards), each person will get at least one such do-over during their lifetime. 

To be clear, at Jubilee all of society’s productive assets (Marx’s ‘means of production’) are redistributed, equally, among all eligible residents. Personal property, including hearth and home, is exempt. Still, this is a long way from merely restoring relationships

The Church is frankly afraid to proclaim Jubilee in its full, Biblical sense…and understandably so! The first Card Carrying Christian, Member #1, was nearly thrown off a cliff by a crowd of his neighbors on the very first day of his public ministry. Why? He proclaimed a Jubilee…beginning ‘this day’, i.e. immediately.

Imagine you went to church some Sunday. As you’re sitting in your pew, perched smugly secure atop  your ‘retirement nest egg’, you suddenly learn that your 401k has just been emptied out. The $1,000,000 that you saved, with the help of your employer and the tax code, has been confiscated. But not to worry. In return, you’ll receive an equal share of all of society’s aggregate productive property…how does $50,000 sound?

Fortunately, you’re not the sort of person who would throw a prophet off a parapet…or are you?

Jesus was bold; we’d expect nothing less from a Messiah. But even Jesus learned the lessons of realpolitik. After the disastrous launch of Christ 1.0 at Capernaum, it was all parables, pithy maxims, and portents of the Apocalypse. Then as now, the end of the World is a much safer subject than the redistribution of wealth!

Millennia later, when JP II proclaimed the Year 2000 a Jubilee, I doubt he was worried about being thrown off a cliff. The very idea of such a thing is straight out of Monty Python: “The chief finance ministers of the G7 nations have broken into the Papal residence and kidnapped  John Paul.” Not happening!

This is the 3rd millennium; we take our politics and our religion seriously…but not that seriously! Even so, Pope Francis is taking no chances. He created an ecclesiastical version of Where’s Waldo. The challenge: Find the concept of Jubilee hidden in the Church’s current teachings. 

I understand that Leviticus can be challenging. I’m not opposed to reinterpreting the ‘letter of the law’ in order to preserve its ‘spirit’. It’s absolutely necessary and Aletheia Today attempted just such a ‘contemporary adaptation’ of the Jubilee concept in an earlier post. But our proposal went a lot further than mere ‘debt restructuring’.

The cross-cultural application of ethical norms is tricky. A rubric from BCE may mean something entirely different if applied literally in a 3rd millennium setting. On the other hand, ‘interpretation’ can be code for ‘indoctrination’. The need to reinterpret an anachronistic norm can be a perfect opportunity for the introduction of heterodox ideology unsupported by Scripture. Discern.

Even some non-believers sense the presence of Spirit in Biblical texts. That Spirit is in just as much demand when it comes to interpreting those texts. The goal of course is to preserve as much as possible of the original instruction, avoiding: (1) the temptation to let 21st century ideology hijack 1st century text, and (2) the temptation to water down the revolutionary implications of the original, hoping to make it more palatable to contemporary intellectual and ethical tastes.

The way forward for the beleaguered Church is not some watered down compromise with secular modernity. After all, without the printing press, the internet or social media, a 1st century theological movement overthrew the late great Roman Empire. Ideas do have power! That is the revolutionary spirit that the Church needs to rediscover today…and no better place to start than by rethinking plans for Jubilee 2025. 


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