The sweetness of Jubilee

“You Christians eat your own. Always have, always will.”

Ted Haggard, the once-prominent pastor who was disgraced by his fondness for crystal meth and gay masturbation, is unsurprisingly now a pariah within the evangelical community. In fact, most don’t give Haggard’s exile much thought (just basic cause and effect). But, what follows is an atheist’s perspective from the outside looking in:

“That guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him. You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will,” (read the rest of the excellent CT article here).

When I’m honest, I’m guilty of this.

I understand that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. But where do we factor in grace? Do we believe in behaviorism, or the Holy Spirit? What does forgiveness truly look like?

I wonder how differently the Biblical story would have played out if we were in charge. It’s likely that Peter would never have led again after he denied Jesus. We’d have impeached King David, refused to entrust missions to Paul, and Sampson would have died a weakling. Lot and his family would have burned in Sodom, Abraham’s wife Sarah would have been stuck with Pharaoh, and John Mark would have been blacklisted for abandoning Paul. Timothy would have been disqualified for cowardice, Hosea’s wife left in the gutter, and Jacob the Liar disqualified for his duplicity.

Israel as a nation would be a mere footnote in history, going the way of Canaan, Assyria, and Babylon.

In light of all of this, I think we should declare 2013 as our Year of Jubilee. Jubilee was the grand ‘RESET’ button of ancient Israel. All purchased land was restored to the initial families, all debts wiped clean, all slaves released. All accounts were restored, the playing field was leveled for all alike: the wise and the foolish, the thrifty and the extravagant, the cautious and the careless.

Trying to transfer the biblical principle of redistribution of wealth from the theocracy of Israel to the representative democracy of the US can get complicated. But, it’s astonishingly simple to apply the principle of Jubilee in a relational context. Jubilee is nothing more than an overdeveloped emphasis on the ‘forget’ side of ‘forgive and forget.’

Has someone offended you? Jubilee means ‘reset.’ Did a loved one vote for the wrong candidate? Jubilee means stuffing the ballot box with love. Has someone squandered what you slaved to provide? Jubilee means erasing the  slate. Have you clashed with the theology of an author or teacher? Jubilee means hearing them again with fresh ears. Has a friend stiff-armed your kindness? Jubilee means trying again. Is your boss an idiot? Jubilee means granting respect, regardless of whether its earned.

It’s scary, I know. It opens us up for more pain and future let-down, I know. Many (or most) will abuse the generosity of Jubilee, I know. This seems to flies in the face of our (capitalistic) understanding of merit-based relationships, I know.

But, let us make no mistake: grace is not karma. The cross was not earned–for Him or us.

Imagine, just for a moment, the power of Jubilee to transform “You Christians always eat your own” to “You Christians always take care of your own.” Like the French say, le miel attrape plus que le fiel.

Sweetness attracts better than bitterness.


About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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