Jubilee:

An idea whose time has come again

“Particularly in the time in which we now live, when all the ideas of all the provinces of Earth are now gathering together for the first time in human history, and all the absolute dogmas find themselves casually associated, to be judged like a crowd of silly Napoleons or mad Christs in an asylum, the complex mind of Everyman and Everywoman is remembering itself all at once. Therefore every individual is obliged to discover the Truth again by penetrating the bizarre consciousness

of all the races combined as one.”

- Adi Da Samraj

I am a religious studies scholar and my attempt here is not to promote any particular religion or belief, but rather to grasp the root of ‘Spirit,’ penetrate to the mostly forgotten, critically important and always timely idea of the Jubilee.

Christianity begins with the appearance and teachings of Jesus; in turn, the teachings of this Jewish Rabbi hinge upon the Jewish law and the practices of the times in which he lived. A fundamental law and practice of ancient Judaism and Christianity is the observance of the Sabbath and the Jubilee; I believe it is an idea whose time has come again.

 

A few months ago (2019) I moved to Mexico and seeking to live there for the foreseeable future, visited the Mexican Consulate in Calexico, California, to apply for a Mexican Visa Temporal. Everything went well and when asked to sign some forms, I noticed that my ‘Status’ was listed as ‘Jubilado.’ I recognized the root of the word and asked the man at the consulate what was ‘Jubilado’. He said it meant that I was ‘retired.’ I asked him if he knew where ‘Jubilado’ came from and he did not, but he told me that the more recently used words used for this idea are ‘retirado’ or ‘pensionado.’

 

The Spanish word - ‘Jubilado’ comes from the Latin Jubilee, jublilare, which means ‘to shout with joy.’ The more ancient derivation of the word comes from the Old Testament where Jews were instructed to blow the shofar or Rams Horn on the Passover and at the beginning of what is called the Jubilee year. Let me explain a little more about what this Jubilee year was:

It is written in the Hebrew Old Testament that God made the world in six days and on the seventh day He rested. That ‘resting’ day, celebrated on Saturday for the Jews, or Sunday for the Christians, is called the 'Sabbath' and we must understand the Sabbath to understand the Jubilee.

“And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day, God finished His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because that in it He rested from all His work which God in creating had made.” - Genesis

 

The Bible speaks of special observances that should be made on this seventh or Sabbath day:

 

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto the LORD thy God, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” 

- Exodus 20:8–20:11:

 

Not only was there a Sabbath day every seven days, but in ancient Israel, every seven years was a Sabbath year and in that Sabbath year as declared in the Old Testament, there was to be a ‘release’; the land and animals were to be rested, no crops were to be grown, debts were forgiven and slaves set free. 

 

“At the end of every seven years, thou shalt make a release.

And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release”

- Deuteronomy 15:1-18

 

The rules of the Sabbath are clarified many times in the Old Testament and the reason God gives of why He drove the Jews into captivity and exile in Egypt was because of their failure to honor the Sabbath. God expresses these ‘reasons’ in the Old Testament: 

 

“Then shall the land enjoy her Sabbaths, as long as it (the land) lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her Sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate, it shall rest, because it did not rest in your Sabbaths when ye dwelt upon it

- Leviticus 26:34-35

 

Another way the Jews failed to honor the Sabbath was they did not grant their slaves freedom in the Sabbath year. In the following Biblical verse, God speaks ‘scornfully’ about this as he ‘proclaims a liberty’ to the Jews as a punishment:

 

“Ye have not hearkened unto me in proclaiming liberty every one unto his brother and every man unto his neighbor: behold, I proclaim a liberty unto you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine and I will make you be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.”

- Jeremiah 34:17

 

After hundreds of years the Jewish people were released from their slavery in Egypt and wandered for forty years with Moses. Before they crossed the river Jordan to The Promised Land, God again instructed them to keep the Sabbath:

 

“The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath unto the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year, there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD.

- Leviticus 25:2-4

 

Now, in addition to the weekly and the yearly Sabbath, there was described a ‘Grand’ Sabbath, the Jubilee, which would take place every seven times seven years. In this ‘Jubilee,’ just like the seventh-yearly Sabbath, the land was allowed to lay fallow, animals rested from their work, all debts were forgiven and slaves set free; but in the Jubilee-Sabbath, in addition to all of this, all land was returned to its original owners, so that no man (or his family) would lose their inheritance if that land had been given as collateral to a lender.

 

“And thou shalt number seven Sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. 

 

“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you, and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. For it, the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase (surplus from previous years)) thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubilee, ye shall return every man unto his possession.” 

- Leviticus 25: 8-9

 

The importance of the Sabbath-Jubilee cannot be overestimated. It is a central theme of the Bible, the Hebrew tradition and the life and Teachings of Jesus. Indeed, the very first Teaching words of Jesus concerned the Jubilee; when Jesus returned to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth after his 40-day fast in the desert, he was handed the scrolls of Isaiah to read to the congregation and he did so; Jesus opened the scroll and read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the Jubilee.”

 

“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He then said to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” - - Luke 4:1

The early Christians tended to interpret the Jubilee allegorically or messianically, but the Jews of the Talmud (Old Testament) assumed the practice was both literal and historical and it seems to me that Jesus referred to, taught and embodied both interpretations. Perhaps now, you may begin to understand my excitement at having been declared, ‘Jubilado.’

 

Retirement can be understood as a time when our debts to society, obligations to family and necessity to work for money are ‘released;’ our children are grown, our grandchildren have been born, we may receive a pension, we are forgiven of needing to work and a whole new purpose and understanding in life may be revealed and lived.

 

According to Jesus, the forgiveness of our own debts is correlated with our forgiving the debts of others. Indeed, this is part of the Lord's prayer! When asked how to pray, Jesus said:

 

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

- Matthew 6:12

 

The ‘Lords Prayer’ offers a clear example of the metaphysical release of debt (forgiveness by God and release from sin) and the practical, economic, person-to-person forgiveness of debts and release of collateral. This practice assured the health of the community by arranging for the greatest numbers of individuals, (the masses), to have a chance to live their life free from crushing debt to the wealthy and eternal bondage.

 

One aspect of forgiveness is based on the acknowledgment that we are all indebted to others and utterly dependent in and on a great mysterious creation. We came with nothing, nothing belongs to us and we take nothing with us when we die. The ‘reason’ given by God to the Jewish people, and the principle on which the commandments and practice of the Jubilee are based, is that God or Yahweh claimed the ownership of everything, and since he owns everything and is the God of all people, His people were to be just caretakers of His (God’s) property and they were to use that wealth to enrich all the people and not just the rich. What is striking is that forgiveness of another’s debts is based on the recognition of the humbling reality of our own debt and our utter lack of possessions.

 

‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”

- Leviticus 25:23

 

This fundamental idea of the Sabbath-Jubilee found its way to America and was actually inscribed on the Liberty Bell that was made to celebrate the 50th anniversary (Jubilee) of the ‘Charter of Privileges’ composed by the Quaker, William Penn. Inscribed around the perimeter of the bell was a verse taken from Leviticus about the Jubilee:

 

“Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

- Lev: 25: 8

 

At the very first strike of the clapper in Philadelphia, the bell cracked and had to be melted down and recast twice. Then, it cracked again and is now displayed with its crack behind glass in Philadelphia, the first capital of the United States. 

 

Some may say this crack is ‘a sign of God,’ some may say it is an ‘omen,’ and some ‘just unfortunate,’ but whatever one thinks about it, the Liberty bell proclaiming the Jubilee, broke, and is rung no more and sits behind a glass case in Philadelphia to be seen but never heard and just so, I think the idea of the Sabbath-Jubilee and the release of debts has faded into obscurity and is heard of very little these days. But that does not mean the Jubilee does not hold great wisdom to guide us in our personal lives, our care of the lives of others (family, friends, strangers and politics) and our care of our environment . . . it should be heard ‘throughout all the land.’

 

Right now (2019) in Puerto Rico, there is a court case between Puerto Rico and several large hedge funds that loaned the country tens of billions of dollars. After the tremendous destruction of Hurricane Maria, which decimated the small country with category 5 winds of over 150 miles an hour, Puerto Rico declared itself unable to pay its debts and in need of declaring bankruptcy. The hedge funds now claim it is illegal for an ‘unincorporated territory’ of the United States to declare bankruptcy and argue for "the sanctity of contract" and "moral obligation,” claiming they must be repaid. The Puerto Rican government states that if they give all their money to repay these hedge funds, a humanitarian crisis will ensue in the country, schools will close, the food supply will be threatened, infrastructure will not be rebuilt and the people of the country will suffer harm. How do we judge such a thing? If we consider the tradition of the Jubilee and the teachings of Jesus, it seems there comes a time when the forgiveness of debt is necessary, and this is an example of such times.

 

We all suffer misfortunes, acts of nature, war, pestilence, disease; we make mistakes and have accidents that can drive us into debt and despair. The practice of the Jubilee allows the economic game to be reset, the losing players forgiven and the opportunity for the growth of all restored. It is said that 85 individuals possess over 50% of the world’s wealth. Three people in the USA possess half of our own nation's wealth. Imagine what flourishing could take place in our country and all over the world if we forgave debts and practiced the Jubilee?  

 

There would be a massive effect on the culture and economy of the day. People would be free of debts. It would be a time of rejoicing for the multitudes. All that are poor and struggling financially, those who have suffered medical bills they could not pay, or setbacks they could not afford would rejoice in a time like this. Those who were rich, banks, credit card companies, those who had slaves (employees) and owned much might rather that such a day had never had come. But for the mass of people of this world (the poor and downtrodden), the forgiveness of debts would allow them to once again work and reap the fruits of their work for themselves. For a society that seeks the welfare of everyone, it would allow all of us to grow again.

 

The Jubilee-Sabbath was specifically concerned not with the aggregation of personal wealth but with the health and sustenance of the community and especially the poor and the downtrodden. The idea and practice of the Jubilee-Sabbath sought to balance a society in the face of the inevitable accumulation of wealth in the (relatively few) hands of the rich, a process that has always occurred. (It was for this reason that Elizabeth Magie, the inventor of Monopoly, created the game.)

 

The Jubilee-Sabbath tradition did not say that no one needs to be repaid, only that if it was not done in seven years, that debt should be forgiven (this timing of seven years came to us out of the Biblical tradition). In the USA we can declare bankruptcy every seven years). And if it was still not done in 7 times 7, or 49 years, then not only is the debt forgiven, but even the collateral (usually land in ancient times) should be restored to its original owner so that no person or family should be condemned to landlessness and ever-increasing poverty. A limitation was recognized and set on all things.

 

There are always going to be people who say this will not work and that we must not forgive debt (like the 'vulture' hedge funds); that we must honor our transactions, abide by our contracts, take an eye for an eye. This is the same argument put forward by the Pharisees in the time of Jesus who said we must honor the law and abide by the Sabbath. This way of thinking was addressed by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians when he wrote “ . . . the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

 

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

- Luke 14: 1-6

As today, so it was before and when confronted with the spirit of the Jubilee, the Pharisees had nothing (of substance) to say. But times have changed; you can tell the dominant theme of a culture by its tallest building when you come into a city. Today, the tallest building in town is no longer a church, cathedral or temple, no longer even a political building (except in Washington D.C.), but a temple of finance and business. In this day and age more than ever before, we are living in a world of money, business and accumulation. In the translation of this idea of the Sabbath, the forgiveness of debts can be engaged no more than every seven years in bankruptcy, but the Spirit of the practice of the Jubilee is mostly forgotten.

 

Being acknowledged as ‘Jubilado’ brought me great happiness; I was declared ‘free to live,’ not just survive. In some way I was free of debts, released, forgiven. The word and idea hold deep and powerful meaning and this small consideration has but scratched the surface.

 

Like many of my generation, I have retired and become ‘jubilado.’ It is a time of release and liberation for us. We may turn our attention from our jobs and professions to our ancient calling and in a vast array of actions, offer up our gratitude and service to others and the world around us. Like Jesus we, too, may proclaim:

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the Jubilee.”

 

 

I am writing a book on this subject called: 

Jubilee: An Idea Whose Time has Come Again

 

Peter Malakoff