A Jubilee Year
The writer of this Gospel, Luke has gone to great length and detail in the first three chapters to inform the reader of the exact identity of Jesus. He begins with the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus and shows his impeccable genealogy through the ages to Adam, the son of God. Chapter three concludes with the baptism of Jesus in which a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Luke’s endeavour is to persuade the reader that Jesus is the Son of God in order to prepare us for the coming ‘punch line’ that is, the good news that Jesus is about to proclaim.
Luke says at the end of chapter three that Jesus was about thirty years old when he started his public ministry, and so begins chapter four and his public ministry. Jesus began his ministry with preaching and teaching of the Good News. He went to the synagogue as was his custom on the Sabbath day and they gave him the book of Isaiah to read. Although they gave him the book, it was Jesus who diligently sought out the text to read. The text would have been the one was most appropriate for the day. With that premise in mind, our current Isaiah text would have been most appropriately read on the Day of Atonement announcing the Jubilee year, and that was the day of the reading. Jesus does two things with this Isaiah text. Firstly, he uses it to make his official public proclamation of his coming ministry. And secondly, he fulfils the scripture in their hearing.
For many Christians today, Jesus’ reading of the Isaiah text is merely further revelation and confirmation that Jesus is the messiah who has come and announces his coming ministry. It is much more than that; Jesus is doing something special, something extraordinary. As Luke pointed out in great detail, this Jesus is the Son of God who is reading the Isaiah text and responding to it. It is more than a reading. All of a sudden the simple reading has become a divine action and fulfilment of a promise, simply because when Jesus speaks things happen. The stunning reply that Jesus gave to the Isaiah reading affects us all and therefore calls for a better understanding of the Isaiah text to find out how it affects us today. Only from studying the Isaiah text can one see and feel the impact of Jesus’ action upon all of us, especially when one considers Jesus as the Son of God with all authority in heaven and on earth.
Jesus reads, “19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,” that is to proclaim the Jubilee year with all its intentions. A Jubilee year is a year of celebration. It is a year to celebrate Israel’s entry into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. It is a year to celebrated Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. And above all, it is a year in which to celebrate God’s goodness towards his called people, Israel.
The Jubilee year is the year that follows seven Sabbath years. The celebration of a Sabbatical year included such things as allowing the land to lie fallow, a time to give rest to people from much of their ordinary work, it was also a time to be taught and trained in God’s law. Luke, mentions that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry began with preaching and teaching God’s Word. He shows how Jesus was indeed honouring God and celebrating the Sabbatical year.
Furthermore, in a Jubilee year the land lies fallow for an extra year. And it is in this year that debts are cleared: a time when mortgaged land is returned to its owners and Hebrew slaves are freed, it is a time of restoration and fulfilled hope. It did not matter whether a person’s debt was large or small; it was cleared in a Jubilee year.
Both the Sabbatical and Jubilee year both have themes of forgiveness and restoration. These celebration events remind us and continue to declare the nature of God and his will towards all people. God’s will is to forgive and restore all people no matter their sin whether large or small. As Jesus was already honouring and celebrating the Sabbatical year by preaching and teaching, then one can assume that Jesus will also continue to honour and celebrate the Jubilee year according to the will of God.
Unfortunately, the practice in the Jubilee year, the year of forgiveness and restoration was mostly ignored and remained unfulfilled. People continued to ignore and sin against God by going their own way. The Jubilee year was meant to be a means to set people free from poverty and slavery, and to remind people that the land and all that is on it belongs to God. Fortunately, God’s plan for enduring salvation is not dependant upon a sinful people.
Sin, self-centred human nature is the cause that has prevented the celebration and fulfilment of the Jubilee year. People have failed to care for each other and above all failed to honour God in all things. And so the people continued to live with all forms of suffering, living only for a hope that one day a saviour would come for them.
People today, you and I are no different to the people at the time of Jesus. There is suffering of all kinds around us. Sin, guilt, fear, and self-centredness continues to rob people of life. We can be guilty of actions that have caused someone’s misfortune, and guilty for failing to take action where we have sat back and did nothing to help someone in trouble. Guilt, fear, and self centeredness, takes us as prisoners robbing us of life and alienating us from family, friends and our neighbours. Only forgiveness can break the shackles and chains of our imprisonment that has come through sin of all kinds. Forgiveness restores relationships and gives back life.
We know that stuff happens, accidents happen, misfortune happens, simply because we are not perfect, we are subject to error and making mistakes. It is disturbing to hear news reports of loved ones killed in road accidents or people killed by a member of their own family. And what is also disturbing is to hear others wanting to tear out the heart of the person that had caused that unfortunate death. They themselves behave like murderers and are guilty before God. The thing that is missing from this scene of terror is under-standing, forgiveness, and care for each other.
Whenever people do not care for each other and do not forgive one another, anger and hatred prevails. As a result, people become isolated, families can be torn apart, boundaries and walls are created, and congregations disappear. Forgiveness and humility is needed to bring about freedom from anger, hatred, guilt, fear, and through forgiveness there is restoration of life.
In the reading from Isaiah, Jesus is reminding us about the Jubilee Year. He is reminding us of our responsibilities to care for each other, and by those words he is also reminding us of our sin and failures to each other. It is an uncomfortable reminder for many that our sin is especially a debt before God.
The Jubilee Year had been impossible to keep for the Israelites. For the same reasons it is impossible for all of us to live a life acceptable to God in every way. Jesus who is reading this text is more than the son of Joseph, more than a carpenter’s son; he is God in the flesh. Jesus as God is speaking these words anew. And God concludes and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What this means for us is this:
Today, God fulfils what is impossible for us to achieve.
Today, God fulfils the Jubilee year on our behalf.
Today, God has cancelled our debt to Him.
Today, God has forgiven us our sins.
Today, God has set us free to live.
Today, God has set us free to enter the promised land of heaven.
Today, God gives us renewed life through his presence with us.
Since we have been set free through the love of God, we can live again. Not only have the words of God set us free but they also call us to give life to others because of the goodness he has first given us. The list of things to help others so that they too can have life is endless. The short list to take where ever you go and what ever you to do is to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”
Would Jesus help in the home? Yes.
Would Jesus treat everyone with respect? Yes.
Would Jesus help the sick? Yes.
Would Jesus help the unemployed? Yes.
Would Jesus help the homeless? Yes.
Would Jesus help the poor? Yes.
Would Jesus help the refugees? Yes.
Would Jesus care for human rights? Yes.
Would Jesus care for all creation? Yes.
Would Jesus be our Good Shepherd? Yes.
With the presence of Jesus in our life all of us can continue in the spirit of the Jubilee year as we ask daily for forgiveness and renewed life. The Jubilee year has no end since forgiveness and renewed life continues to be freely given by Jesus. Jesus started his public ministry by forgiving us our debts so that we may have life and freed to follow him into abundant life, into his public ministry. And so let us start this year, start today by forgiving each other and thereby giving back life. Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Therefore let us go out with the peace of God and celebrant the Jubilee year.