Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yoder and the Implications of the Jubilee

The Jubilee year included four prescriptions:

1. Leaving the soil unplanted
2. Cancellation of debts
3. Freeing Slaves
4. Each family gets back its original property.

When I was reading Calvin's commentary on Luke, I was a little surprised to see that he has no problem with the idea that Jesus was reinstituting the Jubilee during his reading of Isaiah 61 where he declared "the good year of our Lord." In this chapter, Yoder does the footwork to show where and how Jesus reinstituted the jubilee and what that meant/means for Christians.

1. The Fallow Soil: Yoder is honest that there is no explicit command to leave the soil unplanted, but he does point to Leviticus 25:20-21 to show that following the Jubilee meant trusting in God.
'If you say: "what will we eat the seventh year, since we will not sow nor harvest?" - I will give you my blessing on the sixth year and it will produce enough for three years.

According to Yoder, this is similar to Jesus' call for the fishermen to leave their boats in Luke 12:29-31:
‘So don’t be upset, always concerned about what you will eat and drink. (For the pagans of this world are always concerned about all these things.) Your Father knows that you need these things. Instead, be concerned with his Kingdom, and he will provide you with these things.’
Personally, I find this to be a bit of a stretch, but we'll continue, nevertheless.

2 & 3. Cancelling Debt & Freeing Slaves: Christians today do not, for the most part, plant fields, but Yoder says that these next two characteristics are quite relevant to understanding Jesus' thinking. He points to the Lord's Prayer where Jesus says we should pray, "remit us our debts as we ourselves have also remitted them to our debtors." He justifies this more monetary-sounding translation by citing the greek word opheilema. Since I don't know much about greek, I have to take Yoder's word for it, but he says that this word "of the Greek text signifies precisely a monetary debt, in the most material sense of the term" (62). Yoder says very plainly, what this means for Christians:
"Jesus is not simply recommending vaguely that we might pardon those who have bothered us or made us trouble, but tells us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who owe us money; that is to say, to practice the jubilee."
Yoder also points to the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-25 as another example of Jesus desire for Christians to consistently practice the debt forgiveness called for by the Jubilee.

4. Redistribution of Capital: According to Yoder, Jesus states very clearly that we should redistribute capital. "Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor" (Luke 12:33). My first immediate thought on this is that this was an individual command to a man whose materialism Jesus wished to challenge, but I will again digress and give the floor to Yoder. Yoder is critical of those who argue as I have suggested, but it could likewise be turned back on Yoder, because even Yoder does not believe that Christians should sell all their belongings as a wooden reading of this verse demands. So even here, Yoder still ends up watering down Jesus' command; something he is critical of when done by others.

Let there be no misunderstanding here; Yoder does not believe that Jesus was commanding Christian communism. When he said "sell what you possess and practice compassion," he wasn’t creating a constitution for a communist (*cough* or socialist *cough*) state. Yoder believes (and I agree with him) that giving to the poor should be voluntary and done from a joyful heart, not begrudgingly. Those who [in supposed obedience to Jesus] wish to take from people by the forceful arm of government (again, at the point of the sword since that's what you face if you disobey the state) and give that money to whom it sees fit (some needy, and some not-so) are robbing Christians of the joy of obeying Jesus' command to love others, to help the poor and the widow, and to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. These things are to be done with a willing heart and not by bureaucrats at the point of the sword (or gun). Most of all, this robs the church of much of its witness to the world.

According to Yoder, the Jubilee is supposed to be a permanent defining trait of the church. According to Yoder in his epilogue to this chapter, a permanent state of jubilee also fits well with what we read about the life of the early church in Acts (2:42-47; 4:32-36; 11:29-30).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!