Jubilee: Proclaim Liberty Through Out the Land!
Although Jubilee is often thought of as an inward-directed "Sabbath of Sabbaths", inviting us into rest and rejuvenation as a faith community, Jubilee also invokes a prophetic role in the world. This witness dimension is rooted in the way Jubilee themes were utilized by Isaiah and later Jesus to challenge exploitation of the poor, enslaved and imprisoned (Luke 4:14). Leviticus 25 is based on the belief that the land and all of God's people belong ultimately to God. The Jubilee year was intended to move us back to our original birthright before God where none is valued any less than another.
This has many echoes in Friends testimonies. Our testimony of equality is rooted in the value of each human as a vessel of the Light. This requires us to challenge a global economic system that denies much of humanity even minimal access to food, shelter, education and healthcare. Many Friends wrongly assume that our peace testimony was originally based in Jesus' injunction to love our enemies (Matt 5:38-48). In fact early Friends based their objection to war on its spiritual roots in greed, often citing James 4. Woolman also believed that the seeds of war are found in "these our possessions". The violent conflicts of the coming century are likely to spring from conflict over economic inequity and dwindling resources. Can Friends help our nation understand the profound interconnectedness of violence and injustice in tackling the critical choices facing us all?
Our testimony on integrity requires that we speak (only) what is truth. As Jesus suggests, if we remain silent in the face of oppression, will not the stones themselves cry out? (Luke 19:40) Our testimony on simplicity teaches us to let go of whatever gets in the way of our capacity to hear and obey God's living voice - and what Woolman believed was most likely to get in the way was material possessions.
Finally, Jubilee reminds us that the earth itself needs relief! One of the most amazing things about Woolman was his prophetic insight into the devastating damage to North America that over-consumption would eventually cause. Jubilee challenges us, therefore, to also proclaim liberty to the air, soil, oceans and creatures of this planet from the consequences of human longing for more and more "stuff". Friends' ability to speak authentically to those around us will be limited by our capacity to take the lead in shedding out own attachment to the death-giving U.S. lifestyle that so many of Earth's peoples long to attain. May God help our YM use this Jubilee time to rediscover this prophetic voice that our world is longing to hear from us.
Printed in New England Yearly Meeting News, June 2010, in preparation for the 350th annual sessions of NEYM.