countdown has begun. In less than a year, the new millennium will
arrive, with its promises of blessing and new life. Catholics throughout
the world, responding to Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter, On
the Coming Third Millennium, are organizing for the event along
with people of other religious faithsand sometimes of none.
General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has called for
an interfaith meeting to observe the year 2000. Petitions to the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund to declare 2000 a Jubilee
Year have been circulated worldwide and ask that the most severely
indebted of the world's poorest nations be forgiven their debts. Numerous
international Web sites are accessible as resources. (For example,
refer to the Jubilee 2000/USA
web site.) And here at home, the Catholic Church in the United
States has established diocesan Jubilee committees, held gatherings
to study the Jubilee and organized pilgrimages to Rome, the Holy Land
and local churches to herald its arrival. For use on the local parish
level, the U.S. Catholic Conference has published "A Parishioner's
Guide: Preparing for the Jubilee Year 2000."
the excitement gathers to a crescendo, we pauseas Jubilee teaching
tells us we mustto explore the biblical roots of Jubilee, and to
find out what Jubilee 2000 requires of us. For even though "Jubilee"
means a fullness of years characterized by festivity, gratitude and
celebration, it also means a great deal more.
biblical sources provide clues to the meaning of Jubilee, but three
Scripture texts are primary in answering the question, "Just what
is a Jubilee?" One text is in Chapter 4 of St. Luke's Gospel. The
others, from the Old Testament, are Chapter 61 of the Book of Isaiah
and Chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus.
relates a story familiar to those who know that Gospel. It describes
the occasion when Jesus returns to Nazareth at the start of his public
ministry, and accepts an invitation to speak in the local synagogue.
Searching the scroll handed to him, he chooses a passage from the
prophet Isaiah, standing up to read it:
Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring
glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.'
up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and
the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to
them, 'Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing'"
scholars tell us that in making the stunning statement, "Today this
scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing," Jesus was proclaiming
a Jubilee, what Isaiah had called a year of the Lord's favor. It promised
everything that a Jubilee Year had taught people to hope for: good
news to the poor, release to prisoners, the end of blindness, freedom
Scripture also tells us that as they reflected on Jesus' words, and
as those words sank in, the listeners in the synagogue became more
and more angry and finally rose up to throw Jesus off the brow of
the hill on which Nazareth was built. Perhaps Jubilee teaching made
too great a demand on them.]
second primary Scripture is the passage from the prophet Isaiah that
Jesus read on that Sabbath day, a passage which goes on to say that
those who practice Jubilee will be called "oaks of justice planted
by the Lord." They will be remembered as people who built up ancient
ruins and repaired ancient cities (Isaiah 61:1-4), tasks startling
in their contemporary evocation of our own ruined cities.
third biblical teaching, however, is Jubilee's core, and when Jesus
named the works to which the Spirit of the Lord was anointing him,
he joined the prophet Isaiah in pointing back to this core. Found
in Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, it is a blueprint that
summarizes Jubilee tradition from the past even as it teaches how
to proclaim it now and in the future:
weeks of years shall you countseven times seven yearsso that the
seven cycles amount to forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of
the seventh month let the trumpet resound; on this, the Day of Atonement,
the trumpet blast shall re-echo throughout your land. This fiftieth
year you shall make sacred by proclaiming liberty in the land for
all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when every one
of you shall return to his own property, every one to his own family
estate. In this fiftieth year, your year of jubilee, you shall not
sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth or pick the grapes from the
untrimmed vines....[T]his is the jubilee, which shall be sacred for
you" (Leviticus 25:8-12a).
does the jubilee require of us?
were proclaimed in ancient Israel, and have been recorded as occurring
in the Catholic Church since A.D. 1300. Over these millennia, Jubilee
has developed into a set of practices that taken together form an
entire spirituality. To honor and to live such a spirituality, the
following are essential: We must let the land lie fallow, proclaim
freedom, practice forgiveness (especially the forgiveness of debts)
and do justice. Then, having made these central to our lives, we must
hold a great feast, a Jubilee, celebrating both the year of Jubilee
itself and the God who has granted it. We must sing a great psalm
of gratitude, jubilation and praise to the Giver of all good gifts.
might we observe these practices?
the land lie fallow. When the Jubilee comes, we are to stop: no
sowing, reaping, harvesting. Even if we aren't farmers, we know that
means we must keep a Sabbath. The Jubilee Sabbath is not one day's length,
however, like most Sabbaths. Instead it lasts an entire year, even two.
Such a Sabbath commands us to give a rest to the earth, the water, the
trees and the nonhuman animals; to care for the natural world; and to
express gratitude for earth's gifts of food and nourishment. But it
also reminds us to let the land of ourselves lie fallow, to cultivate
stillness, solitude and our capacity for mysticism. During a Jubilee
Sabbath, we must learn to say, with the wise old woman, "Sometimes Ah
sets and thinks, and sometimes Ah jes sets."
Proclaim freedom. This second Jubilee command is treasured
in the United States. Actually, it is engraved on the Liberty Bell
in Philadelphia with the words from Leviticus, "Proclaim liberty throughout
the land to all its inhabitants." Surprisingly, many United States
citizens are unaware of this, although most seem to know another feature
of the Liberty Bell: its crack!
features are worth reflection, for in the United States we take freedom
seriously and at our best recognize that none of us can be free unless
all of us are free. And so, we work to overcome the terrible evils
that keep us chained: racism, poverty, the abuse of children, a criminal-justice
system in which a rich boy's prank is a poor boy's felony. We also
work to combat these evils as flawed people, aware that we too are
"cracked": imperfect, lazy, unfree and desperately in need of grace
and "a year of the Lord's favor."
Practice forgiveness. In the Our Father, Jesus teaches us to
pray for forgiveness. Although we use the words, "Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us," that is not the most
accurate translation. What Jesus really taught us to say was, "Forgive
us our debts as we forgive our debtors." He knew that in a Jubilee
year all debts were to be forgiven.
is what prompts today's Jubilee people to work for the forgiveness
of the debt that crushes millions in the world's poorest countries.
Attending to the remission of debt and praying the Our Father as a
jubilary prayer can be in concert with the interior and interpersonal
demands of forgiveness, fostering the healing of more personal fissures
of unforgivenessthose in our communities, our families and our
Do justice. The Book of Leviticus describes the Jubilee as
a time when property is returned to its original owners, especially
if that property was lost through poverty, debt, bondage or slavery.
Today such returns may not always be possible, although it is remarkable
that nations have done exactly this in the 20th century. For example,
Great Britain has ceded India back to the Indians; the Philippines
no longer belong to the United States; native peoples have had land
restored to them. The principle underlying such return is this: Find
out what belongs to whom and give it back (a phrase coined by
biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann). Such is the work of justice.
perhaps most of us, cannot restore land to its original owners. But
doing justicefinding out and giving backhas another meaning:
Redistribute the capital we do have. This means that if we have the
"capital" of education or health care or white skin or a U.S. passport,
we owe it to one another to balance the privileges each of these bestows,
helping to make the world more equitable and more just. The lyrics
of an old song tell us, "The moon belongs to everyone." The Jubilee
reminds us that the earth does, too.
Hold a great feast. When fallow land, freedom, forgiveness
and justice become part of our lives, it is time to celebrate these
realities. Even as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are great secular
liturgies, so the Jubilee is a great worldwide, ecumenical liturgy,
especially in its power to erase boundaries, to herald good news,
to prompt songs of jubilation. Teaching us to do these things, the
Jubilee ends and begins with the same instruction: Gather up the years,
seven upon seven upon seven, leading us to mark the 50th or 100th
or 2,000th year as the Jubilee.
begin the Jubilee Year, choose a special day, perhaps the Day of Atonement,
perhaps Christmas Eve 1999, perhaps January 1, 2000. Then, as that
day dawns, sound the trumpet loudly, letting its music of freedom,
forgiveness and justice flow "throughout all your land." For it is
a Jubilee; it shall be holy to you.
help you enter fully into the spirit of the Jubilee Year, the following
questions may serve as a guide for reflection and action:
In what ways is the Spirit of the Lord "upon" me?
Of what do I wish to become free?
What debts does Jubilee prompt me to forgive?
In my life, what is it now time to give back?
How do I plan to celebrate Jubilee 2000?*
Harris is the author of Jubilee Time (Bantam Books, 1995) and
Proclaim Jubilee! (Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1996) and
11 other books.
Roger Mahony of Los Angeles does not claim to be a financial
wizard who fully understands the intricacies of international
debt. But that has not prevented him from speaking out as a
religious leader and calling for the relief of debts of poor
countries around the world on the eve of a new millennium, just
as Pope John Paul II has done.
"We have to take
a bold and courageous stand" on behalf of real people who are
forced to go without basic services because of their country's
staggering debt, Cardinal Mahony told Millennium Monthly.
Such debt, he said, has a "human face"a face that North
American Catholics in particular need to look into. In Zambia,
for example, every woman, man and child owes $750 in external
debt, while in the southern hemisphere every person owes an
estimated $300 to foreign creditors. Meanwhile, Hurricane Mitch
has left much of already-impoverished and heavily-indebted Central
America on its knees.
Indeed, it is
poor people who suffer the most when money is diverted from
education, health care and housing so that their nation's external
debt can be paid. If a clinic isn't built because a country's
limited funds are being used to pay its external debt, "individuals
and families still have medical problems," Cardinal Mahony explained.
"The people for whom many projects were destined never see them,"
while their needs are "put on the back burner."
But the cardinal
is determined to "keep the issue on the front burner," especially
as the Church prepares to celebrate a Jubilee Year. The Scriptures
(Leviticus 25) speak of a Jubilee Year as one when slaves are
freed, land is restored and debts are laid aside. Cardinal Mahony
believes the Church should be a "catalyst" in encouraging the
application of ethical principles to economic issues, however
He, for one,
appreciates those complexities, including the fact that many
indebted nations have misused borrowed funds. That is why he
favors audits and, when necessary, "halting further lending
until the corruption is cleaned up." But in the meantime, he
says, it is the poor people of such nations who continue to
be crushed and victimized. It is on their behalf, he believes,
that voices need to be raised.
He urges individuals
and groups to "press the issue" by writing to the White House
and Congress, and to such lending institutions as the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund. "We don't have to
have all the answers. All we have to do is gather the people
of good will and see if together we can find a path."*
by Judy Ball
in the U.S. are being invited to prepare for the new millennium
by recommitting themselves to answer Jesus' call to "love your
neighbor as yourself." The Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice
and Peace answers Pope John Paul II's observation about how
to prepare for the new millennium: "Indeed, it must be said
that a commitment to justice and peace...is a necessary condition
for the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee."
is being distributed by a coalition of justice groups, including
the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Catholic Campaign for Human
Development and Catholic Relief Services. Those who answer the
call to work for peace and justice in the new millennium pledge
regularly for justice and peace.
more about Catholic social teaching.
across boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, etc.
justly in all areas of life.
through time and talent, persons who are poor and vulnerable.
more generously to persons in need, wherever they are.
public policies that promote justice, peace, human
Encourage others to also work for justice and peace.*