Week of June 17: Continual new beginnings ring in the year of jubilee
By Herchel Sheets
For the week of June 17
Lesson Scripture: Leviticus 25:8-12, 25, 35-36, 39-40, 47-48, 55
“I wish that there were some wonderful place called the Land of Beginning Again.” Laurel Louisa Fletcher expressed that wish in a poem about a hundred years ago. She said that if there were such a place, “all our mistakes and all our heartaches and all of our poor selfish grief could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door and never put on again.”
Who has not wished for such a place at some time? And while the past cannot be wiped out as if it had never been, the good news of the gospel offers a forgiveness that makes new beginnings possible. It's as if one is in a Land of Beginning Again.
But that is not the kind of new beginning that is described in the 25th chapter of the Book of Leviticus. The sound that heralds that new beginning is made by someone blowing a ram's horn. Really, it is not just one ram's horn, but ram horns being blown all over the country, signaling what is called “the year of jubilee.” It is announcing that the year of jubilee has come.
According to Leviticus, this year of jubilee was supposed to come every 50 years. The people understood the Lord to have instructed them to count off “seven weeks of years, seven times seven years,” and then on the fiftieth year to blow the ram's horn “on the tenth day of the seventh month - on the day of atonement.” This was to be the signal that the year of jubilee had come.
Why was there to be great rejoicing, jubilee, on that day? Because people who had become slaves were to become free again and people who had lost or had to sell their property were to receive it back as their own again. Talk about new beginnings! That would be something, wouldn't it?
After long years of wandering in the desert, when the Hebrew people found their way into the Promised Land, each tribe was apportioned a section of that land. Then it was further divided with each family receiving a specific share of the land, with the intention that the land belong to that family forever. For various reasons families might decide to sell part or all of their assigned land or unfortunate circumstances might result in their loss of the land.
But it was believed that the Lord intended for that land to belong to that family in perpetuity. So every fiftieth year land that had been sold or lost was supposed to go back to the family of original owners. Even when a family was selling its land, the cost was to be determined by how long it was to the next year of jubilee, for then those buying the land would have to release it to descendants of the original owners. The reasoning here was that it was “a certain number of harvests” that was being bought or sold.
This year of jubilee had significance also in regard to slavery. It meant freedom for persons who had become slaves to fellow Israelites. These were not really to be counted as slaves, for God never wanted the former slaves of Egypt to be slaves again. Instead, they were to be counted as “hired or bound laborers.” There were different regulations for persons who had become slaves of non-Israelites, but still the year of jubilee signaled freedom for those who had lost that freedom. They were not to be slaves anymore, but were to be free again. No wonder it was a time for rejoicing!
It is not clear from the scriptures how regularly this provision for a year of jubilee was followed. Would we be surprised if it was not regularly followed? How many people do you think would want to reinstitute this year of jubilee in our time, at least so far as property is concerned? But that does not mean there is no guidance for us in these ancient laws. We need to remember and keep remembering that all claims we have to land or anything else is tentative, temporary. The land is the Lord's, not ours. We need to remember and keep remembering, too, to trust in God's gracious provision for our needs, and to be sure that we model our treatment of others after God's own gracious treatment of us.
In one of his hymns (# 379 in the United Methodist Hymnal), Charles Wesley sings about the year of jubilee, but it doesn't sound as if he is thinking in terms of 50-year intervals. The year of jubilee is closer than that. Indeed, it's any time. In fact, the refrain of his hymn shouts: “The year of jubilee is come! The year of jubilee is come! Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.” The gospel tells us of present and continuing promises of new beginnings, starting again, receiving anew from the Lord what we may have lost or given away. Thanks be to God!
A Personal Word
Since this is my last Sunday school lesson in the Advocate (at least so far as can be seen at this moment), I want to say a personal word here. For 37 years, I have had the privilege of writing Sunday school lessons for the Advocate each summer - for a total of 488 articles. This has been a challenging responsibility, but also a rich experience for me. I want to thank Editor Bill Holt who first invited me to do this writing and each of the other editors for continuing to give me that privilege. I also want to thank Advocate readers for your words of appreciation and encouragement. I'm still in good health at 83 years of age and look forward to continuing my ministry of preaching, teaching and writing.