‘Righteousness’ is a strong theme running through the Old Testament. Together with the twin theme of ‘justice’ it is at the heart of ethical teaching of creating a good society. It involves not only ‘acting rightly’ but also being in ‘right relationship‘ with the creator and with each other. The themes are intertwined– acting rightly ensures good relationship.
Fascinating principles structure such a society, such as the Jubilee. Once in 50 years, debts would be cancelled and land would be returned. Good news for those who had been born and grown up in families that were indebted, who had lost land and thus the means to create a livelihood. Jubilee would reset their lives and open up their futures anew. Everyone would have a stake in society again.
In his book On Religion, the philosopher and theologian John Caputo portrays the future as the domain of the possible. “We say that we want the future to be 'bright', 'promising', 'open'. The force of the future is to prevent the present from closing in on us, from closing us up. The future pries open the present by promising us the possibility of something new, the chance of something different, something that will transform the present into something else.”
What could a Jubilee economy look like in our time? Probably difficult to imagine, but implementing some of the Jubilee principles may give us a glimpse of possibility. To give people a stake in society again may mean we underwrite a lease for a venue where the Syrian refugee chef can open his first restaurant. Or to give seed capital to the sustainable fashion designer to buy solid industrial sowing machines. It may mean we create apprenticeships for young people who need a second chance to live rightly.
TheVictorian John Ruskin understood that the purpose of economic life now and in to any future we might imagine to be this: to enhance the life force for many.
“There is no wealth but life.”
“Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration” he continues in his treatise on economics. “That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.”
The Christian plumber in Burnley lives it well. He repairs pro-bono the broken boilers of the elderly poor. He also helps them to clear their debts. Roping in other local traders and running a Cost of Living Campaign scheme on Amazon that funds essential winter items he gives the elderly a stake in the good life again. His inspirational venture has become the catalyst for the generous outpouring of finance, time and talent.
It gives a glimpse of a local Jubilee economy.
We have agency, time and resource to transform both the present and the future. Opening the future is God’s business in particular. And so is it our business. To be the people who come alongside, contribute to the (relational) structures and building blocks for life as we follow in the footsteps of the One who holds the domain of the future.