Will you be celebrating the Jubilee? The souvenir mugs have arrived in the shops, the TV documentaries are ready to air, and bunting will soon be going up. Many people will be marking the Jubilee with street parties and, of course, an extra Bank Holiday, a free day’s pay symbolising the Sovereign’s favour on her subjects.
But in these tough economic times many will not feel like celebrating. Our economy continues to bump along the bottom, vulnerable to the debt-fuelled crisis in the Eurozone. Personal and national debt is pervasive and damaging, a significant factor in mental illness. Celebrating the Jubilee amongst mounting debt would seem to be incongruous. But it shouldn’t be. Jubilee is all about debt.
Jubilee is an ancient term used of a biblical celebration held every 50 years in which debts were cancelled, lands returned to their original owners and slaves freed (see Leviticus 25). Jubilee literally means ‘release’ or ‘liberty’. Jubilee was built into the heart of the life of God’s people to reflect that both the land and the people belonged to God, and needed protection.
But Jubilee was not simply an economically levelling piece of Jewish legislation. It set the scene for and pre-figured the Christian gospel.
When Jesus launched his ministry in his hometown synagogue, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, he declared that he had come to proclaim and bring about liberty, literally ‘Jubilee’, saying
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim Jubilee [liberty] to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at Jubilee [liberty] those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18–19).
The Christian faith is all about the good news of liberty; the pardoning of debts – especially our moral debt to God – and of release from oppression. So as we celebrate the Jubilee year of Queen Elizabeth, let us remember also to celebrate the Jubilee of the King of Heaven, the year of the Lord’s favour.
Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell with Chilton