This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jubilee.


Jubilee is a very basic theme in Scripture. Rooted in the laws of Leviticus 25, Jubilee is affirmed by Isaiah and prominently mentioned by Jesus at the outset of his ministry.

Jubilee has two important meanings. The first is justice. In Leviticus it is about not allowing the accumulation of wealth among God’s people. Periodically, the economic system is deliberately reset. Debts are cancelled and property reverts to its original owners. Unlike the exploitative system the people had just escaped from in Egypt, there was to be in Israel no widening division between rich and poor. It is explicitly designed to undercut economic “growth” that allows some to grow fabulously wealthy at others’ expense.

The second purpose of Jubilee is indicated by its connection to Sabbath. Jubilee is really a super-sabbath. And Sabbath has to do with resting as well as justice. (In Exodus 20:8-11, the emphasis is on resting; in Deuteronomy 5:12-15, it is justice.) I don’t think it is too big a leap to connect Sabbath resting with the practice of contemplation and the spiritual life. The various manifestations of Sabbath in terms of periodic cessations of economic activity have the benefit of being times of focus on God’s Presence. I would say that this is done in deliberate meditation, quietness, listening, and prayer in which that Presence is “practiced” and experienced.

Jubilee thus encompasses the two foci of a faithful life. On the one hand, we have the very concrete concern for the “outward journey” of lived and practiced justice in the structures and relationships of society. Jubilee is a way of living in the economic world. On the other hand, we have the contemplative “inward journey” side, which has to do with being, presence, contemplation, meditation, and prayer.

I think that Jesus intends the Kingdom of God to refer to this dual focus Jubilee life. The Kingdom is a social network, a community of peace in which justice, simplicity, and non-violence are practiced in actual inter-personal relationships. And at the same time the Kingdom is practiced in more interior ways through prayer, worship, ritual, Sacrament, and contemplation.

Thus it is not the case that the inward focus of “navel gazing” contradicts or draws energy away from the outward “activist” focus on actual relationships; the two movements inform and define each other. Indeed, each needs the other for authenticity. The two movements are not disconnected. They are more like inhalation and exhalation, or the back and forth movement of something vibrating.

The two are brought together in the life lived in intentional community.

1) A contemplative community is by nature and necessity a community of justice. The “resting” of contemplation/meditation explicitly excludes consumption and exploitation. When one is just sitting one is not in any kind of adversarial relationship with anything. I suspect that all the monks on Mt. Athos put together have a smaller carbon-footprint than I do.

Without justice, contemplation is not contemplation but a self-indulgent escape, or masturbation: like the false contemplation of comfortable people vacationing at an exclusive, expensive spa. Real contemplation is engaged.

2) A community ordered by principles and practices of justice must also practice contemplation. Justice is impossible without presence. Presence feeds justice by keeping it connected to what is real and true. It counteracts the fears, thoughts, desires, and memories that distort our normal functioning by making us not present. In them we dwell in a dead past or a non-existent future.

Trying to make an outward journey without being rooted in inner awareness is to be subject to every principality and power, starting with one’s own ego. This is the tragic failure of every revolutionary, from Cromwell to Mao. It is a forcing people to be good without any understanding of goodness beyond the arbitrary will of the one with the most power. This inevitably results in a reign of terror. Real justice is (for want of a better word) dispassionate or detached.

Jubilee/Sabbath is one place where a detached justice and an engaged contemplation flow together. The emerging called/gathered/sent community of Christ-followers will be jubilee people.

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