The news articles are sprinkled here and there, amid all the other news about the pandemic. Just below the coverage that counts the number of new cases, the number of deaths, and job losses. Stories about the more vulnerable among us.
A writer takes notice of how a virus that doesn’t check the background of a host before taking up residence is disproportionately attacking persons of color. Another writer covers persons without a home to provide them shelter-in-place, and persons closer to the bottom of the economic scale. And caught up in the middle of systemic inequities, we find the lesser covered stories. The messy stories.
There’s a story in scripture about a time when Jesus returned to his hometown. The scene is the church in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Nazareth was one of those small, rural towns, located in the hills. It was like one of us who grew up in the northern peninsula of Michigan, returning home after spending years traveling through the cities of the lower peninsula. Everyone knew everyone.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth as the son of Joseph, the carpenter. While Mary was His biological mother, Joseph adopted Jesus after Mary got pregnant and gave birth while the couple was engaged. Likely a not-so-well-kept secret among the hometown folks.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed.
Jesus had the honor of reading from scripture during the church service. All eyes were on Him as the townsfolk listened to find out if this homeboy’s reading ability matched the rumors about His popularity as a healer and teacher. The crowd was impressed. His diction and pronunciation of the ancient text was flawless. “I heard he graduated from some Ivy-league school,” one lady whispered to her husband.
Things couldn’t be going better for the local hero until it didn’t. The text that Jesus read was from a book of ancient prophecy that we now call Isaiah, after the name of the main characters. The prophet Isaiah was famous among the ancestors of Jesus. It is said that God spoke directly through Isaiah to all people.
Part of the text that Jesus read said something about a time when prisoners are set free, the blind gain sight, and debts are forgiven. This prophecy connects to ancient laws dating back to a time when the ancestors fled from slavery in Egypt. The name we give this particular set of laws is Jubilee.
Pastor Jeremy of Court Street Church, says this about this idea of Jubilee:
Every fiftieth year, God said, you shall blow a ram’s horn and announce the beginning of a year of Jubilee. In that year you shall rest. Don’t plant your fields. Don’t even plow. Don’t buy and sell stocks. If your neighbor went into foreclosure and you bought his house, give him his house back. If you loaned somebody money and they’ve never managed to pay it back, cancel the debt. If somebody has fallen so low, they had to sell themselves into slavery, set them free. Release prisoners from prison.
Spend the year with your family. Forgive and show kindness and rest. This was God’s commandment: every fifty years, push a giant reset button and let everybody start over. It’s hard to imagine what that would look like. It was even hard for the Israelites.
The rabbis tell us that this commandment was so difficult that it was probably never obeyed. The teachers of the law talked about this as an aspirational commandment, not one that God actually intended for people to carry out. How would it even work? They said. It’s just too much to figure out. For thousands of years, it remained an aspiration. For thousands of years, nobody actually had the audacity to declare a year of Jubilee.1
But, Jesus said that Jubilee is right here, right now, as sure as He is standing there. And, Jubilee is key to understanding the identity of Jesus, who embodied Jubilee. But how can this be possible? After all, Jubilee never really happened. It was a great idea that God gave to His ancestors. But not one of the ideas that was ever really followed. Jubilee was more of a concept. More like an idea that isn’t really possible. So how can Jesus and Jubilee be one and the same?
This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.
Perhaps they didn’t reject Jesus. After all, wasn’t He the adopted son of the carpenter Joseph? Wasn’t Mary His mother? Wasn’t He the kid that got all A’s and went on to college and then seminary? Jesus may think that Jubilee is long overdue, but He will soon learn that it’s not practical. They didn’t reject Jesus, just this idea that just because He arrived, so did Jubilee. But they still wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Besides, who hasn’t suffered from rejection at one time or another? The sting of rejection can leave a venom within us that may fester for years. But when we are rejected by the people who should know us best, the poison of rejection is particularly devastating. After all, they know us best, don’t they?
And for those who may be a bit more different, rejection can become routine. Which is bad enough, but what happens during a time when we need each other? What if Jesus went into the office of one of the persons making up the angry mob that day to get help? Would they reject Him again?
What if a person who rejects the idea that a person’s gender is not the same as their physical body suggests is faced with a living example of the concept they rejected? And what if this person holds onto deeply-seated beliefs that the world created by God simply can’t work this way? Will they reject the person in front of them, possibly denying to help at all? Even if their job is to offer their help?
Or does a crisis bring us closer together? Can the COVID-19 pandemic be a time when we can put our own biases and insecurities aside and focus on how to best get through this challenging time together?
One idea behind Jubilee is to recognize that the world gets messy. Things go haywire. People find themselves in difficult, if not impossible, circumstances. And what they need least of all is rejection. What they need, most of all is to be free from whatever created their conditions. And to be loved because they are who they are. A child of God.
I invited several persons to respond to a survey on potential topics. A few met already. If you didn’t get your invite, please go to RisenSurvey now and take our survey. This will really help us figure out which topics are important to our participants and who is willing to do and share their research. This week, Katelin and I plan to share what we learned about an easily forgotten group of people amid this pandemic. LGBTQ youth.
I invite you to join us this Sunday. We plan to be live via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
1 The Reverend Jeremy Peters, Sr. Pastor, Court Street United Methodist Church. © 2020.