The reflection below was written by Ched Myers for our Advent-Christmas 1999 reflection booklet, Discovering God with Us: An Advent Journal. Ched is an ecumenical activist theologian, a popular educator, writer, teacher and organizer, committed to animating and nurturing church renewal and radical discipleship, and supporting faith-based movements for peace and justice. Find his blog, many articles, webinars and a few audio recordings at chedmyers.org.
reflection for the THIRD sunday of advent, DECEMBER 13, 2020
by Ched Myers
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John 1:6-8, 19-28
God has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from God. (Is 61:1-2)
The reading from the Hebrew Bible today is the famous prophetic commission that heralds “good news to the oppressed” and proclaims “the year of God’s favor”. Of all the possibilities in his scriptures, it is this text that Jesus of Nazareth chose to define and inaugurate his mission, according to Luke’s Gospel (Lk. 4:18-19). While its meaning has often been spiritualized by our churches, Isaiah (and Jesus) clearly understood the “acceptable year” in terms of the ancient vision of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).
The Jubilee was a communal discipline designed to teach the people about their dependence upon the land and upon the “divine economy of grace”. Because the Earth belongs to God and its fruits are “free”, the people should justly distribute those fruits instead of seeking to own and hoard them. The “sabbath’s sabbath” (7 x 7 years) was intended as Israel’s hedge against the inevitable tendency of human societies to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the few. In agrarian societies such as biblical Israel (or some parts of the world today), the cycle of poverty began when a family had to sell off its land in order to service a debt, and it reached its conclusion when landless peasants could only sell their labor, becoming bond-slaves. The Jubilee aimed to dismantle such inequality, redistributing wealth by:
- releasing community members from debt (Leviticus 25:35-42, Deuteronomy 15:1-11)
- returning forfeited land to its original owners (Lev 25:13, 25-28)
- and freeing slaves (Lev 25:47-55, Deut 15:12-18)
The rational for this radical restructuring of the community’s wealth was to remind Israel that the land belongs to God (Lev 25:23) and that they must never return to a system of slavery (Lev 25:42).
Only real economic redistribution represents good news to real poor people. In the spirit of Jubilee, let us consider the following:
- Debt: [In this relatively new millennium] can we join our energies with international movements [and efforts] for forgiveness of the debt burden of nations in the Global South which is crushing the poor?
- Return of land: As we read our Christmas story of a homeless couple, can we redouble our efforts to eradicate homelessness in our local area?
- Liberation from captivity: Can we take concrete steps to free ourselves from the annual consumer frenzy of Christmas (over 40% of all good retailed annually are sold between Thanksgiving Day and December 25)?
Only by recovering a gospel that is truly good news to the poor can we, like John the Baptist, prepare the way for the Coming One (John 1:23).
Find more reflections and resources on our Advent 2020 webpage.