Jubilee, Good News for the Poor

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 12, 2004

On Sunday, I preached out of Luke 4. The passage has a good deal to do with the Jubilee–that 50 year event that is sort of a CTL-Alt-DEL for the nation of Israel. If Israel was faithful to keep the Sabbath, the Year of Release (the seventh year is supposed to be a land Sabbath, a forgiveness of debts, and a freedom from slavery), and the Jubilee (the time when all land would be re-distributed along tribal claims), then there would never be long-term poverty in Israel. In fact, if Israel were obedient to the Law, not even foreigners would go hungry. Society would be just. Its funny how most evangelicals grew up thinking that the Captivity was over a bunch of Israelites committing personal wickedness and idolatry. According to Leviticus 26, it seems that Captivity was at least partially about injustice. God cares about the poor. God loves the downtrodden. The Gospel of Luke is essentially a detailed account of Jesus bringing Jubilee. And the Church should continue to proclaim Jubilee.

Last week, I heard a man named Bob Lupton share a story about gentrification. A while back, he bought a house in Atlanta. As time passed, his property values began to rise…and he was happy. That was, until he got to church for a prayer meeting. A woman there needed prayer because her rent was increasing beyond her means. He was unable to pray with her because he knew that HE was part of the problem. His response was Jubilee. He gathered a number of people together to respond to the widening wealth gap that gentrification was causing. He and his colleagues began to buy houses, fix them, and sell them at extremely fair prices with no money down to those who were unable to afford the rising cost of housing. This is one expression of Jubilee.

Jubilee isn’t brought about by legislation (though I would be willing to grant that it can play a part). It is brough about when we are willing to put aside our own desire for economic upward mobility for the sake of those who are economically downtrodden. I know that Jubilee has to do with more than physical needs…but it certainly doesn’t have to do with less.

Bob Lupton insires me. So do people like Rich Mullins, who lived off of 22K a year so that he could use the surplus for the sake of establishing a music school and ministry to the Navajo in New Mexico.

We need to recover a biblical idea of stewardship. Israel was supposed to follow Jubilee because the land is God’s, not theirs. And we should live Jubilee because what we have is not ours, but His. God gives us material blessings for the sake of the Kingdom. Not for our pleasure–at least not primarily.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He and his wife Amy have been married since 1997. They are expecting their first child in April.

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2 Responses to “Jubilee, Good News for the Poor”

  1. Blorge on October 13th, 2004 9:16 am

    I think that the Jubilee is something that Evangelicals need to really think long and hard about how to incorporate into their lives. American Evangelicals have formed an unholy alliance with the political right that far exceeds any biblical warrant and thus have been complicit in many of the structures that perpetuate the systems of long-term poverty. I’m not a facist about separating the church and the state in the way that some evangelicals are, but I think Evangelicals should open up space to genuinely grapple with these issues.

  2. jeff on October 13th, 2004 5:17 pm

    Great post, Mark. I’m wondering if this is being explored in any theological-practical detail by any church/para-church practitioners.

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