~ Wati Longchar
8“‘Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.
13 “‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.
14 “‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God. (Liv. 25:8-17)
No Jubilee without Repentance
No institution or organization does not celebrate the Jubilee Year – 25 years, 50 years, 75 years, 100 years, etc. Jubilee is the biggest event all over the world. We spend several years and months planning for the jubilee celebration and every individual is willing to contribute generously for the success of the event, but we often forget that it is a year of repentance – to say sorry to God’s creation, our fellow neighbors, and loved ones; it is a year of confessing our transgressions. The Bible speaks of the `Sabbath’ and the `Year of Jubilee’, but always in relation to repentance – without repentance, there is no meaning of jubilee; without repentance, there is no justice. “Repentance” is turning to God to do God’s will. It is saying sorry to our past misdeeds both individually and collectively for the sake of justice to all. Repentance is thus a prerequisite for the restoration of justice which includes ecological, economic, social, and political life. When there are genuine repentance and forgiveness, there is new life and a new relationship emerges. For the people of Israel, the Jubilee celebration is not just an event or celebration on a particular day or two, but it extends year-round. It is a year of celebration for freedom. Jubilee is thus an important occasion for us:
- to introspect – our relationship with nature and fellow human beings;
- to repent – our selfishness;
- to rectify – our failures and weaknesses; and
- to affirm – reach new heights, achieve new goals collectively towards a new future.
Repentance against Ecological injustice
The land, the river, and the forest have been the home of all living beings. Humans are not the only species; we share this earth with 80 million other species. But humans assume that the whole earth belongs to them only. They misuse and rape the earth and its resources to meet the growing demand of consumerism. Forest and fishing resources are depleted for quick profits. Mining companies rape the earth’s resources oblivious to human persons, environmental and social costs. The air and the water around us are all polluted. In March 2019, it is reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 412 parts per million (0.0412%). Before industrialization, the concentration was 280 parts per million (0.0280%) only. This is an increase of 47%. Based on the 2000 rate of carbon emission, it is projected that the earth will hit the tipping point in 2048. In Delhi, an oxygen bar named “Oxy Pure” offers 15 minutes of 80-90 percent pure oxygen for Rs. 299 and within a few months since its setup, an additional 7 outlets have opened. While the rich can buy oxygen, pollution of air means death for the poor. Excessive development work motivated by insatiable human greed and consumerism has put the whole of creation at risk. The whole planet is at threat and we need repentance from the unmindful extractive and destructive industries. Ecological justice cannot be attained without repentance on the part of human creatures. The land needs to be given rest – nobody should cultivate during the jubilee year and the animals that work in the field should also be given rest. We must stop exploitation and repent from our selfishness! In the modern context, it is not possible to live without work and cultivation. Migrant workers, daily wagers, and farmers will die of hunger. The ‘land and animal must be given rest’ implies that we should have a limit of our wants and desires. Endless exploitation of the earth’s resources is sin – an insatiable desire to have more and more is sin. It is not sustainable. The earth cannot sustain our lavish lifestyle. Hence, the Bible demands that human beings should repent and restrain ourselves from over-exploitation and misuse of God’s resources; an endeavor for a sustainable way of life should become our spirituality. We should repent to care and protect all God’s creatures – every creature and every plant are very precious and unique in their way. They are all God’s creation and must be given care, protection, and preservation. The future of the planet earth is in the hands of all humanity; it depends on human lifestyle, attitude, and interrelationship. Today the whole God’s creation is crying and human beings must sincerely repent from greed. Without repentance and accomplishing justice to God’s entire creation, human beings cannot attain liberation and salvation. Jubilee demands repentance and a new attitude of life towards God’s creation – an attitude of love, care, and respect.
Repentance from Economic Exploitation
During the Jubilee year, the debt must be paid and forgiveness is requested. A person without adequate food cannot experience the presence of God. It is estimated that 3% of the global population holds 25% of the wealth. It is an unjust economic relation. It is said that the Americans eat 815 billion calories of food each day – that’s roughly 200 billion more than needed – enough to feed 80 million people. Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food daily while more than 20 million people around the world do not have enough to eat. An unethical lifestyle. The UN Gen. Secretary-General António Guterres is right when he said that “It is unacceptable that hunger is on the rise at a time when the world wastes more than one billion tons of food every year”. The wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $900 bn last year while the wealth of the poorest half of humanity, 3.8 billion people, fell by 11%. The gap between the rich and poor is widening because of an unjust economic system. Monopolization of production and unjust distribution of resources lead to marginalization, e.g. 50% of arable land in Madagascar (around 3.2 million hectares) is owned by Daewoo Logistic of South Korea. 80% of global trade is controlled by 147 global corporations, of which 95% of shares are owned by 4 investment banks. Without genuine repentance on the part of the rich, it is not possible to celebrate jubilee on an empty stomach. During the Jubilee year, the land and properties must be returned to the original owners. It means we must repent for the crimes we have committed against the poor and stop exploitation. Nobody should be cheated, oppressed, and manipulated for another person’s selfish interest. Jubilee demands to share but not accumulation. An Indonesian folktale goes like this: “Once there was a bird with two heads. One neck was long, the other one was very short. The long neck-head could reach everything and would enjoyall kinds of fruits – apples, oranges, mangos. The second head had a very short neck so it had difficulty in reaching the fruits and food. The short neck-head could only see the oranges and apples, but could not reach them. The short neck-head said, `Give me a few apples and oranges. I am very hungry. I do not want to go hungry. Please, give me some food’.But the long neck-head answered: `No! All of the oranges and apples are mine. I am blessed that I have a long neck. It is your fault and luck that you have a short neck. Why don’t you pray for a long neck like me? All the oranges and apples are mine, not yours.’ Hearing these unkind words and attitudes, the short-neck head felt very sad, insulted, and cried. Being very hungry, the short-neck head scraped the ground for food and ate the poisonous tuber from the ground. Consequently, the whole body of the bird got poisoned and the bird died.” About 21,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes; one person dies every four seconds because the rich people are not willing to share. The whole of humanity is like one body. The world is divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have not’ and the rich are never satisfied. There are some nations and some people within a nation where they have an immense advantage to manipulate and accumulate wealth at the expense of others. Some have too much to eat, while others do not have anything except to beg on the streets. When the poor nations or poor people ask for help, the rich nations and people simply say “it is because of your fault”. The Jubilee demands for a “life of sharing” and economic justice to the poor. Without repentance and striving for justice for the poor, the whole world will suffer and meet a similar fate just like that of the two neck-bird in the folktale. The Jubilee demands us to work and raise prophetic voices against injustice and exploitation of the poor people.
Repentance from Social Exclusion:
There are different layers of oppressive structures that exclude people. While many people in the ‘margins’ are excluded and forced to live outside of the power structure, there are some people within the ‘centre’ who appropriate maximum benefit out of the system. The domineering power structure excludes the ‘other’ to marginality and is nurtured by the wrong value system. For example,
- anthropocentrism categorizes other segments of God’s creation as a mere object to be exploited and abused;
- androcentrismidentifies women as meek, inferior, and weak, and excludes them from leadership roles in the church and society;
- racismexcludes black, people of colour, and indigenous people and considers them as inferior, incapable, ugly, lazy, unintelligent, and less valuable by affirming the white superiority;
- casteismexcludes Dalit, Adivasi, and other backward classes from the power structure affirming the superiority of Brahmin and other high castes;
- ableismexcludes persons with disabilities from the mainstream societyaffirming perfectionist and abled construct ideology and society;
- heterosexismexcludes LGBTIQ+ from the mainstream society affirming that heterosexual alone is divine creation and the ‘other’ is abnormal and psychologically sick.
These are evil structures created by the rich, privileged, and powerful to exert power and exploit the people in the margins. The poor, needy, and destitute are products of the unjust and unethical power structure. The Jubilee challenges us to repent from the thirst for power and restructure our social relationships in accordance with the Kingdom’s value. It demands repentance and new action – we must stop the exploitation of the poor. We must strive for justice for the orphans, widows, and persons with disabilities, but should not treat them as objects of charity. Their needs must be looked after and social security must be given to them. The Jubilee understanding of social justice goes beyond the narrow racial, religious, or cultural boundaries. It is an inclusive community that includes all religious, social, ethnic, and cultural communities.
Repentance from Political Manipulation
Political and economic manipulations are interrelated. It is estimated that13-14 million people in India, including children, work as bonded labourers due to economic inequalities. They are like political prisoners due to unjust social relations. A person becomes a bonded labourer when the value of his/her work is lesser than the original sum of money he/she ‘borrowed’. In many places, entire families are forced to work to pay off the debt taken by one of its members. Sometimes, the debt can be passed down the generations, and children are held in debt bondage for a loan their parents took. It can be termed as ‘modern slavery’ that feeds on a cycle of indebtedness, exploitation, and abuse. This kind of slavery happens in our society due to a lack of political will. It is not only a human rights violation but is also, according to the Bible, a sin. During the Jubilee, the slave must be set free. The relatives and dear ones are obliged to redeem them. Many marginalized communities are struggling for political justice all over the world. It is not only individual and poor communities, but some developing countries also experience political powerlessness due to unjust economic systems. The oppressed people’s political movements are born due to unjust policies, market capitalism, and negligence. But many justice movements have been suppressed in the name of peace and national integration. All forms of violence like killing, kidnapping, torturing, raping, extortion, and ransacking are the daily experiences of the common people. Every day, people live in uncertainty and insecurity; they feel insecure even in their own homes. In some places, people have to pay multiple taxes to underground outfits. Though the empire defines those people’s movements as anti-national and anti-development, one will discover that people’s cries are not against anti-development and anti-national, but they want the protection of the whole earth and its resources from greediness and overexploitation. People cry for their right to culture, language, customary law, and progress. The Jubilee is the year to listen to the cries of politically powerless people; people who cannot come out from the yoke of slavery. In an institutionalized oppressive context, sometimes one may think that we are a minority community and we do not have the political power to bring changes in the political structure. Still, we can raise prophetic voices. Imagine how Lady Meng challenged the merciless autocratic and authoritarian rulers in China. The emperor was constructing, known today, “the Great Wall of China”, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, against foreign invaders. To appease the spirit, the emperor decided to sacrifice one human being every 3 kilometers (with the entire Great Wall with all of its branches measuring to be 21,196 km, one can imagine how many human lives must have been sacrificed). Lady Meng had just been married, but their marriage ended within a few months because her husband was taken to be sacrificed. She was just a poor ordinary woman, but she challenged and revealed the cruel, merciless, inhuman character of the rulers and the king. Her courageous confrontation humiliated the king and ministers. To this day, the spirit of Lady Meng remains in the hearts of many Chinese and she has become a political legend in Chinese history. She showed to the world that even the most powerless person can bring political justice. Can we also bring political justice? Yes, by raising prophetic voices individually and collectively.
Let us affirm that the Jubilee becomes a reality when we genuinely repent and turn to the living God. Give the land a chance to rest; protect the lives of people who are weak and continue to live under the threat of death; strive towards economic justice for all so that all mouths experience food justice; finally, choose life against the destruction of the earth and its inhabitants by affirming life and justice.