Summoned to Serve|
Time for us to get over the hurts
During the Jubilee Year we are called to forgive and let land lie fallow
By Peter Feuerherd
Still stewing because your brother-in-law borrowed that
snowblower last year and hasn't returned it? Let go of it, and
you'll honoring a religious tradition dating to the ancient
Hebrews and endorsed by Pope John Paul, says Maria Harris, Ph.D.,
a national religious education consultant and expert on the
practice of jubilee.
Harris, a visiting professor at New York University, is the
author of Proclaim Jubilee (Westminster John Knox) and Jubilee Time (Bantam Books).
At Jubilee, the ancient Hebrews set aside time to allow the land
to lie fallow and forgive all debts, Harris said. In ancient
Israel, the jubilee was held every 50 years and was a time of
fasting and repentance followed by a festival.
Pope John Paul has urged Catholics to follow that tradition this
year. He has urged reconciliation and asked that the crushing
debt burden on developing countries be relieved in line with a
tradition cited in Lv 25:8-12.
The concept of jubilee also is part of the fourth chapter of
Luke, which includes the account of Jesus preaching in his
hometown synagogue. In that chapter, Jesus proclaims that he has
been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor and free captives
Harris summed up the concept of jubilee in four f's and one
j: fallowness, forgiveness, freedom, justice and festival.
For modern U.S. Christians, the spiritual benefits of jubilee are
readily apparent, she said. While most don't live on the land,
they still are called to let the land lie fallow, which, in a
spiritual sense, means to stop and take a Sabbath.
In a culture that honors activity, letting the spirit lie
fallow allows a Christian to move towards forgiveness, she
Moving towards forgiveness involves both personal decisions -
such as letting go of that snowblower - and larger international
Poorer countries frequently are saddled with debt, and because of
it are unable to progress. Pope John Paul has repeatedly asked
international agencies to relieve the debt burden of developing
countries, she said.
On the homefront, U.S. dioceses can work to balance resources
among richer and poorer parishes.
The concept of forgiveness of debts is hard and practical, she
Spiritual debts also need to be considered. She cited a Detroit
parish where priests asked parishioners to forgive anything they
might have done to estrange them from the faith. Parishioners
then asked their priests to forgive the times they weren't
In the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., Bp. Kenneth Untener urged
parishioners and priests to reflect on how the local church
should forgive its spiritual and financial debts. That reflection
should take place before every parish meeting, he said.
A similar mixture of personal and social concerns permeates the
jubilee concept of freedom.
Scripture's call to proclaim liberty is engraved on the Liberty
Bell in Philadelphia, famous for its crack.
It's quintessentially American. It's there on the Liberty Bell.
Even though we are flawed and cracked ourselves, we have to work
for liberty, Harris said.
On a personal level that can mean reflection on What is keeping
me bound? a question that can address addictions and weaknesses.
On a social level, it can suggest that Catholics focus on
liberating people from the social imprisonment of illiteracy by
tutoring children and adults who need help.
The concept of jubilee justice means "finding out what belongs to
whom and giving it back." For modern U.S. Catholics, fulfilling
this jubilee command means recognizing the gifts that many
middle-class people possess, Harris said.
Americans who have the skills to obtain decent jobs can focus on
sharing their resources, perhaps by training others who lack
education and training, she said.
While the ancient Hebrews modeled their jubilee on a 50-year-cycle, this year's millennium celebration recognizes a 1,000-year
cycle in the Christian world, making its impact felt even more.
-- Next: Christianity's cultural gift