The darkest times might reveal who we really are. And despite people hoarding toilet paper as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the globe, I see hopeful signs that suggest deep down we know we’ve not been doing right as a society. We might call these moments of Jubilee. And perhaps our responses in a pandemic will also show us how we should live outside a pandemic.
In Jesus’s first sermon, he gave us a taste of what it means to bring about Jubilee — that Mosaic teaching that was to come every 50 years to cancel debts, return land, and release people from bondage. It is a system designed to prevent generational poverty and create a more just and equitable society.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” Jesus declared in Luke 4, “because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Over the past week, news headlines have offered glimpses of what Jesus urged. Suddenly we are proclaiming temporary Jubilee for those at the bottom of our society — the very people who struggle even more when a pandemic and recession hit because they were already barely surviving in our unjust system. Here are a few actions taken because of the coronavirus outbreak:
- Several states and dozens of other cities across the country have suspended shutting off water for residents unable to pay their bills, and some cities have even agreed to turn water back on for those who already had it shut off before the pandemic. Jubilee!
- Flights to deport asylumseekers from the U.S. to Guatemala have been halted, preventingpeople from being returned to the very situations of poverty and gang violence they previously fled. Jubilee!
- New York’s attorney general suspended all collections of unpaid medical and student debt referred to the AG’s office, and some national lawmakers are proposing debt cancellations as part of the economic recovery plans. Jubilee!
- Courts across the country have released prisoners with new offerings of bail and parole to reduce prison populations, and arrest rates have dropped dramatically in bids to prevent overpopulation in the jails. Jubilee!
- Numerous cities across the country have announced a moratorium on any evictions of tenants unable to make rent payments, and California’s governor said he hopes to provide temporary housing for those currently homeless. Jubilee!
- A federal judge blocked a Trump administration rule created before the pandemic that was set to force 700,000 Americans out of the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (often known as “food stamps”) on April 1. Jubilee!
I’ll admit these actions are intended to be temporary, and there are other actions being taken right now that don’t fit with the biblical vision of Jubilee. But in these actions of temporary Jubilee we hear a prophetic whisper mostly ignored through the ages. We hear the call of Moses and Jesus to do better. And we are acknowledging that our system is broken, even rigged against the least of these.
We need more Jubilee in our society — and not just during a pandemic. May we unite — albeit with appropriate social distancing — with love for neighbor during these difficult times created by a global pandemic and recession. And then after it passes, may we continue to find ways to love our neighbor and bring about Jubilee.