I’m here in Guatemala working on the first phase of building a sanitation system in the community of Chuicutama in the Highlands of Guatemala. If you’d like to learn more and/or support our work, as it’s a multiyear project, you can do so by clicking here:
As part of our week, we’re reflecting on the bible’s commandments about Jubilee. You can think of Jubilee as scripture’s economic policy. Jesus unveiled his own Gospel in terms of Jubilee in Luke 4, his first sermon.
Believer or not, every one knows about the ten commandments. What’s not as well known is that when Moses is on the mountaintop, God says a whole lot more than what can be etched into a few stone tablets.
And God gives many more commands. Among them, is the Jubilee commandment.
A second component of Jubilee is the command that every fifty years Israel should leave their fields lie fallow as a sign of trust that God will provide for them. In this way, Jubilee insures that Israel never forget that the God who rescued them from slavery in Egypt also fed them with Manna in the wilderness, the God who parted the Red Sea for their deliverance also gave them water from the rock to drink.
Jubilee then was a symbolic act, a sign that God is the one who provides for us no matter how much our hard work and success delude us otherwise, a sign that fidelity to this God and this God’s desires trumps all our worldly urgencies.
When Jesus announces Jubilee as his Gospel in Luke 4 this is one of the practices he’s implicitly proclaiming. At first glance, however, its unclear how this aspect of Jubilee plays into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus never told anyone to leave their fields fallow and trust that God would feed them.
Or did he?
Right after his Jubilee sermon in Luke 4, just after narrowly escaping death at the hands of angry congregants, what does Jesus do next?
He calls his disciples.
And in calling them what does Jesus have them do?
Drop their fishing nets, leave their work- immediately- and follow him.
Only a few chapters later, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus echoes Leviticus when he tells these disciples who’ve left their fields and fishing nets behind:
Do not worry and do not say: ‘what shall we eat and what shall we drink, with what shall we be clothed.’ For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Seek first the Kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.
Removed from a context of Jubilee, Jesus’ commands to not worry, to consider the birds and the lilies, to note how God provides for them can sound like he’s encouraging us to be lazy or even apathetic. What’s worse, in the hands of prosperity gospel preachers, this passage becomes like a genie’s magic lamp, offering whatever wish we ‘seek’ after.
This passage seldom makes any sense if it’s not read as Jesus calling together a Jubilee community, a people putting away their material priorities to pursue the Kingdom, trusting that God will take of their physical needs.
Just like the first disciples’ call, we engage in mission from a starting place of trust. Just as it did for the first disciples and just as the Jubilee command did for Israel, mission calls us away from our trust in the world. Mission calls us away from all the objects, achievements and activities we label ‘necessities.’ What we prioritize in our lives points not to God but to us and our hard work. Much of what label necessary for our lives are simply trophies of our success. Mission calls us away from a life that points to ourselves and calls us toward a life that points to God.
Thus, going out in mission is never just a venturing forth in to the world. As it was for those who dropped their fishing nets to follow, mission is always a leaving behind too. We leave behind what we typically think important in the trust we will discover a something of surprising and surpassing value.
True, most of us don’t have fields we can leave fallow.
We don’t have fishing nets to drop on the beach.
But all of us have us things the world tells us we need. We all have things we tell ourselves we need.
All of us have priorities and obligations, hopes and desires, without which- we imagine- our life would cease. We have ‘stuff’ we’re convinced we need for our lives to be full and complete.
The challenge behind and truth in Jubilee is that very often our ‘fishing nets’ get in the way of completely trusting and following God. We prioritize our lives with both trivial and important concerns and inevitably we give our discipleship whatever time we have remaining. With worry and anxiety, we seek first our own priorities and hope we’ll have time for what faith requires of us.
Jesus is urging the opposite.
Seek the Kingdom. Worry only about the things of the Kingdom.
And God will provide the necessities.
This is why, as Kenda Dean says, mission is more than a trip. Mission, rooted as it is in Jesus’ Gospel, is a way of life.
It’s a disposition away from our daily, materialistic wants and desires and towards a life that gives witness to the God who comes to us in Jesus.
Surely, its no accident that Jesus rephrases Leviticus and tells his disciples to seek first his Kingdom while on top of a mountain.
Not only is Jesus echoing the first Jubilee command from Mt Sinai, mountains in the first century, as they are in present-day Afghanistan, were the domain of revolutionaries. By calling his disciples up to a mountaintop, like a revolutionary leader Jesus is constituting them as a community of committed to a different set of values and priorities.
Jesus is leading them (and us) to turn away from one kingdom- the kingdom of personal gain and rat races, stock portfolios and slick, gotta-have-it advertisements- and towards his own.