So, you’ve heard that Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Jubilee Year. More than just a theme, this coming year will be extra-special. Why? Because Jubilee Years are right from the mind of God. Held every 50 years, this one is 35 years ahead of schedule! What were jubilees about? Why should we care? Here are 3 things to remember in a jubilee year.
In the book of Leviticus, The Lord God proclaimed that every fiftieth year should be proclaimed as a Jubilee¹ (a neat onomatopoeia that comes from the sound made by the happy sounding ram’s horn: “yobel!!!”). This year was intended as an opportunity for all peoples to rejoice in their dependence on God. While post-modernity celebrates its so-called independence from God, the Jubilee year is intended to be a time to remember that He’s really there and we can’t create anything out of nothing—that’s God’s job. We participate in His work of creation and as such, we must be stewards of what has been given – whether we have much or little.
If what we have is God’s to begin with and He has claimed us as His own through Jesus Christ, we’re supposed to call to mind our common emancipation from slavery. Originally, the Jubilee Year was meant to restore equality to the Jewish people:
…each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family.
Debts among peoples were forgiven—personal and corporate; those sold into slavery were to be returned to their homes; those imprisoned were to be liberated. It was a year to “reboot” unity.
The jubilee year was a time to remember that the land is the property of God first:
…since this is the jubilee. It shall be sacred for you. You may only eat what the field yields of itself.
There was to be no planting or trimming of the vines. While it was a time of celebration, it was also a time to recall that the land would not feed anyone if God had not first blessed its ability to bring forth plants. If the land belongs to God, then we ought to share God’s kindness by reaching out to those who have need. A jubilee year was a time to feed the hungry, to give alms, and to joyfully offer to others what we have yielded by forging with our hands what God has first given to us. By only eating what the “field yields of itself” we are reminded that whether in abundance or scarcity, we are upheld by God’s Providence.
By calling this out-of-the-ordinary Jubilee Year (since it’s not yet 2050), Pope Francis is asking the whole world (Catholics and everybody else) to remember God’s great mercy towards us. If God has been so merciful, then ought we not to determine how to be merciful to others?
Imagine if mercy were spontaneously extended to warring families, to unstable tribes and nations. What if debts between the affluent and the poor nations were cancelled? What if those who yielded an abundance of food in their fields this year shared with those whose fields did not produce?
The wise and the learnéd would say “it’s not that simple.” Jesus tells us that it is to the childlike² that the mysteries of everything He came to bring with his own announcement of messianic jubilee³ are made plain. What if we were simply childlike? What if we all embraced this coming jubilee?
See also: EWTN, The Jubilee in the Old Testament