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Land, justice, and our neighbours

We mark our jubilees with silver, gold and diamonds,

with a nod to rubies after forty years;

Here is a single stab at jubilee, without a single jewel

except the precious stone of justice for the poor.

The reading for today is one of the most radical parts of the Bible, and one of the radical documents of the human race, inspiring reform right up to the movement for land value taxation – started by Henry George in the 19th century, whose economics textbook sold more copies than any other.

“The land is mine,” says God, “with me you are but aliens and tenants.” At the very least this means that property responsibilities are as or more important than property rights – and that is enough to fuel land reform. But since this was addressed to Israel, it is a special challenge to the people of God to share what they have, and to think carefully about who is my neighbour, perhaps my alien neighbour in Syria or North Korea, or my neighbour studying in Scotland.

This chapter builds on sabbath teaching – a concept which has become both more difficult and more important as modern life has eroded any idea of a corporate day of rest and worship. It is ironic that mainland Europe which many British people despise in all kinds of ways (but want to benefit from) has preserved more of a Sunday sabbath than has Britain.

A prayer: Lord, help us include both justice and rest in our lives and our witness.

Leviticus 25: 1-24

1 The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3 For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound labourers who live with you; 7 for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12 For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. 14 When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. 15 When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop-years. 16 If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. 17 You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.

18 You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. 19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely. 20 Should you ask, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ 21 I will order my blessing for you in the sixth year, so that it will yield a crop for three years. 22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating from the old crop; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old. 23 The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. 24 Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.


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