‘Now if your fellow countryman becomes poor and his hand falters with you [that is, he has trouble repaying you for something], then you are to help and sustain him, [with courtesy and consideration] like [you would] a stranger or a temporary resident [without property], so that he may live among you. Do not charge him usurious interest, but fear your God [with profound reverence], so your countryman may [continue to] live among you. You shall not give him your money at interest, nor your food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. – Leviticus 25:35-38
Maybe we can understand this better by looking at Isaiah 57:16-18 —
“For I will not contend forever,
Nor will I always be angry;
For [if I did stay angry] the spirit [of man] would grow weak before Me,
And the breath of those whom I have created.
“Because of the wickedness of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him;
I hid My face and was angry,
And he went on turning away and backsliding, in the way of his [own willful] heart.
“I have seen his [willful] ways, but I will heal him;
I will lead him [also] and will restore comfort to him and to those who mourn for him
I think we all understand the wilful choice of sin and yet God answers with a word of grace. Now the spirit of the law is seen through a different set of eyes.
The theology of the jubilee year also raises the ethical question of whether religious practices govern decision-making in today’s world: “The Jubilee was concerned with basic ecological and economic realities—the care of the land and those who worked the land, debts, slavery, and distribution of land. These practical concerns were presented as critical spiritual matters.” The jubilee was never intended to be simply a political or an economic decision, but rather a powerful theological reality. It’s an ethical and religious mandate intended to transform people’s ways of thinking about their fellow humans, their attitudes toward justice, and their transactions in the business world. The jubilee is a sacred matter, concerned with restoring a right relationship with God throughout all of creation.
You remember the central scene from Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, one of the most famous in all of literature. Jean Valjean, the convicted thief, has stolen silver from the bishop who took him in, but he’s caught with the pieces in his possession. The gendarmes brought him to the bishop so he might press charges. Instead, the bishop told the soldiers that he had given Jean the pieces. Then he gave him his two silver candlesticks as well, his most valued possessions. The soldiers freed him. Then the bishop said to him in a low voice, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good. I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” And so it was. Jean Valjean would be a changed man, and he would help to change the world. He’s changed by the power of grace.