In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop-years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God…
If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound labourers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold.
Leviticus 25:13-17; 39-42
“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic system of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. … [Further] We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexaul oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives.”
The Combahee River Collective Statement
9 to 5, yeah they got you where they want you
There’s a better life, and you dream about it, don’t you?
It’s a rich man’s game no matter what they call it
And you spend your life putting money in his wallet
Listen: I was taught to avoid Leviticus and Deuteronomy just as much as the next shrimp-loving, bisexual trashbag (just call me Eleanor Shellstrop), but the more I read the Bible – by which I mean the whole blessed and cursed thing, not just the milquetoast excerpts we’re offered in church – the more laughable I find the narrative that God cares primarily about your sex life.
The truth is, God cares much more about the freedom and flourishing of creation. Further, that freedom has always had real, immediate, and economic dimensions. Those who spiritualize this freedom, or tell oppressed others to wait until kingdom come, are missing the point. They are also endangering their souls. True, we may not taste exactly what that freedom is like on this side of the grave, but our scriptures call us to pursue it—for ourselves and for our neighbors. Our lives here and in the hereafter depend on it.
Lest we forget: the imprisonment/freedom thing is not metaphorical, either. The number of people imprisoned in the United States is truly sickening, and as many as 60% of those in jail are awaiting trial, meaning they have lost their freedom without being convicted of a crime. To no one’s surprise, the majority of people detained pretrial are Black and brown, and most are poor, victims of a cash bail system that devalues human freedom by putting a price tag on it and criminalizes poverty. Cash bail and pretrial detention for nonviolent offenses should be ended; they are inherently fucked-up and anti-biblical practices.
The same economic system that traps you in your 9-to-5 cubicle traps your less fortunate neighbor in a prison cell. And the distance between those two realities is far less than the bootstrapping American narrative would let you believe. Don’t slip up too bad or you may end up with the state’s price tag on your head, too.
But there is a better life, and God dreams about it, doesn’t she?
We don’t know if the Jubilee was ever actually practiced in ancient Israel, but we also don’t know precisely what some of the animals mentioned in the Hebrew Bible even are, and we don’t let that stop us from thinking God created them too. (I also know that just because your religious relatives condemn “sexual immorality” doesn’t keep them from doing their own weird shit, it just gives them a nice thick coating of shame.) Perhaps the Jubilee was just a dream God had after hitting the buffet too hard…
But it could be a reality. For us. Today.
Listen: what if the church read the whole Bible, and then acted on it? What if we rejected the separation of the economic and the spiritual? What if you stopped reading this right now, researched your local bail fund, and sent them some cash? And what if that was the best prayer you prayed all Advent—a little taste of Jubilee?
Kate Spelman is everyone’s second-favorite supply priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. After a decade-ish of parish life, she is now working for a secular social service agency, building out their capacity for LGBT+ older adult programming and outreach. In her spare time she cooks, reads, knits, walks her dog, and makes her wife watch Schitt’s Creek.