Biblical Economics

7. Proclaim Liberty

esus' most startling definition of his mission came in his home town of Nazareth. The record is in Luke 4. On this occasion he quoted Is. 61.1-2 as his text and made it clear that he had come to proclaim the year of liberty! The words of Isaiah are, themselves, quoted from Lev. 25. 10, but with the characteristic "new" covenant touch: the reference to the Holy Spirit. Here, again, it is the Holy Spirit who is going to bring in the jubilee, not the civil power.

In Luke 4.22 it is said that the people were amazed at these "words of grace." Grace, of course, is the free gift: cancellation of debt, restoration of the heritage, and Jesus is here announcing grace, proclaiming liberty. The essence of the legislation for the sabbatical years and for the year of liberty is the word "free". Each man returns to his inheritance, freely. No charge, no obligation, nothing done to merit it. God orders it. This concept is spiritualized in the New Testament. God sees his people dispossessed by Satan, enslaved by sin, debt-ridden by unfulfilled obligations, and he proclaims liberty, he sets them free in return to their own inheritance, which is fellowship with God and a portion in his kingdom.

Most of the New Testament is concerned with the battle by which Jesus won the victory -- it is quite intentional that the name "Jews" is the Greek form of "Joshua", who won the battle and led the people into the promised land which made this redemption possible. The words "grace", "freedom" and "redemption" are the main themes of the New Testament, and they all derive from the Old Testament land legislation! But now the land in question is no longer the good earth of Palestine, but the coming Kingdom of God, the inheritance of God's new people, the new Israel, the disciples of Christ.

The Christian Church, ever since the "conversion" without repentance of the landlords of the Roman Empire in the time of Constantine, has been playing the game of the prophets and priests of Jeremiah's time, making things easy for itself by ringing the changes on the spiritual interpretation of the old land laws while ignoring studiously their practical application, or fulfillment, in everyday life.

This course has been frequently justified by arguing that the Church has lacked the authority to give or execute land legislation. The fact of the matter is that Jesus' first disciples had no question in their minds as to how the jubilee was to take place: they took Mt. 5.17 and Mt. 7.11 literally and, we are clearly told in Acts 2.41lff and 4.32ff, instituted the jubilee among themselves in the power of the promised Holy Spirit. "They that gladly received Peer 's words ere baptized; and the same day there were added about 3000 souls... and all that believed went together and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all, as every man had need... neither said my of them that aught of the things he possessed was his own; but they had all things common... neither was them any among them that lacked: for as many of them were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made to every man according as he had need."

That this action was entirely voluntary is made clear by the story of Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5.3-8), a couple who tried to get credit for more generosity than they really had. They were told that they didn't have to sell their land, in the first place, and, if they chose to sell it, they were free to do what they pleased with the proceeds. The word "free will", which is frequently used in the Old Testament of offerings and sacrifices above and beyond those required by the law, is the Greek word (in the Septuagint version) "dektos". The word was used by Jesus in proclaiming the "acceptable" (that is "Free, will") year of the Lord. What God does is free, and our response is free.