One of the things I regret about my life— and the list of life regrets is very short — is that I took out student loans for a majority of my education. So as a forty something year old, with three academic degrees – I have a significant debt to repay. Recently, I looked into whether being a pastor would qualify me for community service debt forgiveness through my loan service company. I daydreamed as I listened to the horrendous computerized music as I waited to be ‘the next customer to be helped.’ I daydreamed about what it would be like to have my student loans forgiven. How I could move on to saving for the future, for retirement, for my daughter’s college education. But once the operator came on the phone I realized that the government did not see me as a community service provider and I make way to much as a senior pastor to qualify.
Debt forgiveness. Return of ancestral property. Reconciliation with God and neighbors. The day of Jubilee is a beautiful work of making tangible the covenant love of God. The Jubilee year is the year at the end of seven cycles of seven years, and according to Biblical regulations had a special impact on the ownership and management of land in the Land of Israel. Jubilee deals largely with land, property, and property rights. According to Leviticus, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. The text of the Book of Leviticus argues that the Jubilee existed because the land was the possession of Yahweh, and its current occupiers were merely aliens or tenants, and therefore the land should not be sold forever. Midrashic sources argue that the Jubilee was created to preserve the original division of land between the Israelite tribes.
Could you imagine — if your family had been hit by drought, and sold their ancestral lands — this Jubilee practice would restore the land. If you had found yourself living beyond your means and had indentured yourself to afford to pay of your debts – this Jubilee practice would restore you to your ancestral role. What a holistic and powerful economic example of the covenant love of God.
That is until we realize that there is no historical evidence that the nation of Israel ever practiced Jubilee – not even once. Come on, did you really think the board game of life would get rest every 49-50 years? Did you really think the haves would give back to the have-nots and together live in harmony? Some scholars say that the clock for Jubilee only begins counting when Israel is in control of the land. And there is so much debate about which land, and in control by who – for us ever to get to the point of enacting forgiveness.
During the season of Lent we may not experience student loan debt forgiveness but we could begin working towards reconciliation. Isn’t it time to call the black sheep of the family and express care and concern? Maybe you are the black sheep of the family — maybe its time to surprise the family by coming home, by loving, by risking connection. Sure no one wakes up in the morning and says today I’lll forgive my enemies, free the slaves, and write off the debts others owe me. But certainly today we could extend a sort of contextual Jubilee. Some song seems to be stuck in my ear — They will know we are Christians (how) by our love, by our love.
Rev. Dr. Peter Cammarano
Peter is the Senior Pastor of Chappelwood UMC in Lake Jackson, Texas. He is a Youthworker and helps teach and train other Youthworkers through SPARK Youth Ministry Conference offering The Birkman Assessment to the graduate students.