Jubilee & The Scandal of Grace

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Debt

Perhaps one of the biggest things that has happened over the past ten years or so is how it seems like the prices of everything has gone up exponentially.

Food prices.

Gas prices.

Even college tuition prices.

I remember working in the telecounseling office at Greenville College with Steph, and tuition, room, and board at the time was about $26,000 a year.

Well, I checked the Greenville website on Friday, and today, it’s about $34,000 now, so it’s taken a jump.

And having recently finished seminary, I’m not a stranger to the student loan process. And neither are lots of other college and graduate students who are seeking degrees. There are lots of people in the world now who have substantive debt, for the simple reason of education.

And while we can debate some of the ways in which this has played out, and the effect it has had and will continue to have on the economy, the fact remains- lots of students owe lots of money.

And in our Scripture text this morning, we get this parable that Jesus tells to his disciples about the dishonest manager.

Now, a quick note before we continue:

This was perhaps one of the most difficult weeks I’ve had in terms of sermon prep in a while, and this is my take on this passage as best I can understand it.

If you have other thoughts, ideas, or questions, through the course of reading this, I invite you to dialogue with me about it. Leave a comment, or send a message. I’d love to talk about it with you.

If there’s one thing I have learned from sermon prep, it’s that there is always a wide variety of interpretations of Scripture, lots of different ideas, and different directions that things can be taken. 

Scripture has layers- and it speaks to each of us differently, but that’s a good thing, because when we come together in community, we are able to edify one another as a result.

Wasting:

So, Jesus tells this story to the disciples, that a rich man had a manager, who was not doing his job well. The text says that he was “squandering his property,” which could have either been a commentary on inept management, or theft.

But the manager was called “dishonest,” which seems to imply that he was somehow taking that which was not his from his master.And the manager’s master finds out.

Busted.

So he tells him to “give an accounting of your management,”which means he wants to know what he has, and what he is owed.

So, when the manager realizes that he’s going to lose his job, he decides “what to do, so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes,” (v. 4).

The manager calls his master’s debtors one by one, he adjusts the amounts that are owed to his master. The first person owes 100 jugs of olive oil.

Which is fascinating to me, because, even as an Italian, who the heck needs that much olive oil?!
I mean, really? 
It’s our life blood, yes, but 100 jugs? Seems a bit excessive.

Either way, the manager cuts it down to fifty. And he does the same for the second debtor. And cuts his debt down from 100 containers of wheat to 80.

So, two things are happening here:

1. What he’s doing is removing his commission from the cost of what is owed.

2. But further, he is forgiving debt from others, as much as is within his power to do.

He can’t cancel the debts of his master, especially now, since he’s about to lose his job. But he does what he can for these debtors to forgive their debt, perhaps in the hopes that they will help him once he is let go from his position as manager.

Jubilee

There’s an old Jewish practice that Luke makes reference to throughout his gospel, and it’s called the “year of Jubilee.”

According to my trusty five-volume New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary (the one I had to buy for a seminary class), it says that:

“the Jubilee year is the final year of a cycle of seven “sabbatical” periods of seven years each. The name derives from the ram’s horn (yovel), and the year of Jubilee is inaugurated on the Day of Atonement.”

It’s also called the year of “liberty,” which connotes the practice of “putting things right again.”

In practice, it means:

  • “A year of agricultural fallow,
  • Forgiveness of debts for fellow Israelites,
  • Freeing of Israelite slaves held by other Israelites.”

It also meant that land that had been sold during that period would be returned to its original owner. Since, in those times, selling land typically meant one was in dire financial straits.

In short, the year of Jubilee meant “freedom.”

I’m reminded of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when, in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech when he says:

“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I’m free at last!”

Which came in the midst of the Civil Rights movement from the 1960’s.

Jesus himself plays off of this idea of “Jubilee” earlier in Luke’s gospel, in 4:18-19, when he is worshipping in the local synagogue on the Sabbath. And he stands up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is the embodied version of this idea of Jubilee.

And he even says that this is good news!!

Jesus is our Jubilee, over the oppressive power of sin and death in our lives. 

And you know what?

Jesus’ words in Luke 4 is a pretty good definition of grace.

Because, you see, the scandal of grace, is that it was originally meant for “others.”

We heard in the Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin last week that God cares for “others,” and that our call to be “with” others, since God is “with” us is a significant one, because at one point in our lives, we were all “others.”

It’s like that line in “Come Thou Fount,” when it says:

“Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God”

It’s the same idea here.

We are called to be that living embodiment of Jubilee to others. Let’s take a minute and let this sink in a bit.

Wherever you are right now, reading this, take just a moment, either on your phone, tablet, or computer, and say this aloud or to yourself:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me

Because he has anointed me

To bring good news to the poor

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

And recovery of sight to the bling

To let the oppressed go free

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

There are our marching orders. This is the type of people God calls us to be, both jubilee people, and freedom people.

This isn’t some prosperity gospel, or name it and claim it theology.

No, not at all.

This is the heart of the gospel, the heart of discipleship, and the very heart of God.

In closing, I’d like to share a quote from the spiritual author Henri Nouwen:

“Laying down your life means making your own faith & doubt, hope & despair, joy & sadness, courage & fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.”

Jesus did all those things for us, when he laid down his life on our behalf, and we are called to do it for others.

So that’s my challenge to you and myself this week:

Let’s go and be Jubilee people, with God’s help, releasing them from all that which holds them back from being all that God desires them to be.

Amen.

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