J is for Jubilee

People of Christian faith often ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

“Proclaim liberty throughout the lands and to all the inhabitants thereof, it shall be a jubilee for you.” – Leviticus 25:10. In the Judaic tradition, during the Jubilee year, debts were forgiven and land that had been sold to repay debts was returned to the original owners. “What was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee, it shall be released, and the property shall be returned.” – Leviticus 25:28. In both Judeo-Christian and non-Biblical traditions, there has been an understanding that forgiveness of debt, when that debt becomes so onerous that one cannot ever get from under it, is both fair and practical.

Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, asks, “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” As Jubilee USA Network notes: “In the world’s most impoverished nations, the majority of the populations do not have access to clean water, adequate housing, or basic health care. These countries are paying debt service to wealthy nations and institutions at the expense of providing these basic services to their citizens. The United Nations Development Program estimated in 2003 that 30,000 children die each day due to preventable diseases. Debt service payments take resources that impoverished countries could use to cure preventable diseases. Debt cancellation frees up resources to reverse this devastating reality.” And, in many cases, the debt has already been paid, or would have, had the interest rates been reasonable.

The primary argument against debt jubilee is the notion of moral hazard; i.e., “situation where the behavior of one party may change to the detriment of another after the transaction has taken place.” People who enter into contracts should fulfill contracts, lest others be tempted to renege as well. Too often though, the original loan was consummated without the borrower having all the information. Or that the borrower is a nation that generated debt under a previous regime. This writer submits that when debt is essentially fraudulent, then debt forgiveness is both the logical and the only remedy.

People of the Christian faith often ask God to “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” To me, that suggests that the way to show God’s love involves showing much more compassion than many financial institutions have shown to their customers. The United Church of Christ, for one, “has joined with other faith communities and organizations to call on governments to cancel the debts of poor countries and restore just economic relations between nations.”

Many US householders understand this concept on a micro-level. They buy a house, lose their job, and, instead of the banks agreeing to negotiate interest rates with the borrowers, the lenders choose to foreclose. And this mass seizure of homes has forced cities such as Cleveland, Ohio to raze some of its housing stock, since banks, by their nature, are ill-equipped to actually protect and take care of the buildings in their ownership. How much more reasonable and mutually beneficial it would have been if money lenders had been able to agree on a lower interest rate with homeowners,as some of the largest banks have finally been forced to do.

The business magazine Forbes asked last year if a debt jubilee might help kick start the American economy. As any good accountant will tell you, debt or credit which cannot be paid back is never an asset; it is always a liability.

ABC Wednesday – Round 10

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

28 thoughts on “J is for Jubilee”

  1. Great post. You brought up some interesting points. I remember the first time I heard forgive us our debts, I was surprised. I had gone my in laws Presbyterian Church with them and they say debts . . . debtors but in the Episcopalian Church where I was raised we said, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Now I’m curious about why different Christian churches have different words in the same prayer. Carver, ABC Wednesday Team

  2. Carver – since you asked: Matthew and Luke diverge slightly. Matthew continues with a request for debts to be forgiven in the same manner as people forgive those who have debts against them. Luke, on the other hand, makes a similar request about sins being forgiven in the manner of debts being forgiven between people. The word “debts” (ὀφειλήματα) does not necessarily mean financial obligations… In Aramaic the word for debt is also used to mean sin. This difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s wording could be explained by the original form of the prayer having been in Aramaic. The generally accepted interpretation is thus that the request is for forgiveness of sin, not of supposed loans granted by God. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord%27s_Prayer

  3. Oh my, its so early to have my brain working so hard this morning.
    This is such a timely topic and I’m inclined to think there is a lot more to The Year of Jubilee than we know.
    Its a lot to think about. Wouldn’t our world be a better place for it?

  4. Interesting perspective on this passage in Matthew and Luke. As an Anglican I have always looked on ‘forgiven us our trespasses as we forgive trespasses against us’ as being compassionate and aware of hurts we may cause others, or forgiving acts which have offended or hurt us, – but what a wonderful and relevant viewpoint on the debt situation.

  5. The concept of a debt jubilee is a new one to me and sounds like a great idea! I also grew up with “forgive us our trespasses” and like forgiving debts better. Thanks for the thought-provoking read!

  6. To me the debt implied in the verse is more about forgiveness than money and jubilee is more about celebrating than debt. It’s an interesting twist this debt jubilee and might have merit in some cases while not in others. Sometimes when you give something it is better not to expect anything back.

  7. I love your take on “J”. Interestingly, I never thought of pairing ‘debt’ with ‘jubilee’. Somehow it just doesn’t sound right to be jubilant with debt up to our eyeballs. Srumbjum!

  8. What a jolly good idea…what good does it do anyone to force people into foreclosures and bankruptcies! So many are in this situation now – all over the world – and the poor keep on getting poorer while the rich eat cake.

    abcw team

  9. We must be reading the same material. It’s irritating me that I can’t remember where it was that I read about the Jubilee Year forgiveness of debts just recently, within the last week. It’s a great concept. Like so many great Biblical (actually Jewish)ideas, our world is not ready for this philosophy I fear. Great post.

  10. There’s a Jubilee entertainment complex here which houses a movie theater, restaurants, shops…it’s very near to my house, about 3 minutes drive away.

  11. Well shake it up now, Sugaree
    I’ll meet you at the Jubilee
    And if that Jubilee don’t come
    Maybe I’ll meet you on the run
    Just one thing I ask of you
    Just one thing for me
    Please forget you knew my name
    My darling Sugaree

    …Now I know what that song is about. It’s about the consequences of debt. Thanks Roger.

  12. I can’t comment on this our system when one wants to buy a house is completely different. You have to have a certain percentage of the house value otherwise you won’t get a mortgage and of course a stable income. That’s why most of the houses are rented.

  13. Interesting concept, the jubilee year.
    I guess “forgive our debtors” was too hard to swallow, so most people now say “forgive those who trespass against us”!

  14. Perfectly presented theology; yes drop the debt. Now all you need to round it off is a U for Usury post.

  15. Roger, I know they did practice the Year of the Jubilee–studied it years ago in bible classe. Wouldn’t it be a blessing if your society could excercice some of these principles.
    Thanks for your visit today, I’m really enjoying ABC Wednesday.

  16. Hi Roger, I learned a lot from your J post this week. I have not heard of the debt Jubilee but now that I have I am supportive. I support being compassionate and doing the right thing.

    Thank you for the interesting post. Have a wonderful evening.

  17. As always, awesome food for thought, Roger! :o)

    Thank you for your lovely words at my ABC post.

    Kisses from Nydia.

  18. Hello.
    Debt Jubilee…that would be something. Would give me more $$$ to indulge in my favorite pastime…bathing in chocolate (lol).
    Enjoyed this insightful & thought-provoking post. Thanks for sharing & visiting.

    Justified Indulgence

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