Leviticus 25:8-19, 55 Righteous Restoration July 11 2010
I think I’ve shared this story before, but it’s fitting for what I wanted to talk about this morning.
I was 17 years old and it was my first time out of the country. I went to Peru with four other people who were roughly my same age, and we were on a busy street one day, rushing to catch a bus.
It was a crowded street in a fairly large city, and we were walking really fast to try to catch this bus on time. We were going single file to try to move faster through the crowd, so I was constantly looking up to track my teammates and then down to avoid the feet in front of me.
I knew I was out of place on that street, a young white guy trying to keep up with his friends.
I also knew it was a perfect place for people to pick my pockets, especially since whenever you go overseas you’re given plenty of warnings about how to carry your money and your papers so you’re not taken advantage of—so all this was going through my mind as I was rushing to catch this bus.
And I’ll never forget it—that moment when the feet cleared away in front of me and I almost tripped over this obscenely poor old woman sitting with her legs folded underneath her in the middle of the sidewalk.
I almost stepped on her–but I didn’t.
I caught myself—and I just stood there, at the end of her outstretched hand.
She was gently rocking back and forth with a slight moan coming from her dry, chapped lips, just barely loud enough to hear. She was clothed in rags and filth. There was something like a shoebox on the ground in front of her.
And you know, I was a Christian before I went to Peru—after all, it was a missions program—but looking back, that moment was a kind of conversion experience for me.
I stood there, dumbfounded by this woman.
I stood there with the reality of third-world poverty right at my feet–up close and personal as they say.
And as I stood there looking into her eyes, my world came undone.
I don’t even clearly remember what happened next. I think my team leader had to come back for me, to stop me from standing there and staring like an idiot.
I think we put some coins in her hand and kept moving.
…I felt so helpless—and at the same time I felt embarrassed. My primary concern up to that point was about whether someone might try to steal the money I needed for the bus.
But this lady made that concern irrelevant.
See, I was in Peru in order to share Jesus with people. We had these dramas we had learned as a team—skits set to music that didn’t use any language but conveyed the message of the gospel. So we carried a CD player with us and could start the music and start acting out this drama, and the idea was that we could convey the gospel to a crowd of people and then use our limited Spanish after it was over to talk to the interested people one on one when we were done.
So we were probably on our way from this city to another smaller village to perform this drama in a plaza or on a street corner somewhere.
So can you understand why I was so undone by this experience?
In my rush to share Jesus, I almost stepped on God’s daughter, who is my sister.
It was the first time I was faced with the question: what good is my gospel to this poor old woman?
What good is your gospel to that poor old woman?
The message I carried that day was of no use to her. She didn’t just need money or food—she needed a home, she needed people around her, she needed security.
See–that moment on that street in Peru–it was the first time I really wondered what Salvation really meant.
I got part of it–I got the part that says you’re good to go to heaven after you die.
But I wasn’t satisfied with how that would translate into this woman’s life.
See, as many of you know, something profound happens when you look straight into the eyes of someone in that kind of desperate poverty.
It’s like Jesus looks back at you, and you walk away with a lot more questions than answers.
The woman on the street didn’t need a quick and easy speech from a teenage kid who didn’t know her language. Nor did she need to be entertained by our drama.
What she needed was a Jubilee year.
You see? She needed to have her home restored to her. She needed to have food shared with her. This woman needed a home, a family, friends…she needed nothing short of the Jubilee that we heard about this morning.
That’s the beauty of God’s kingdom. This picture of Jubilee-it wasn’t just for then and there; it’s a picture of what we need here and now too!
We Christians are big on Salvation-right? That’s one of the words we like to use a lot.
We like to ‘have’ salvation, we like to ‘offer’ salvation…I went to Peru because I was interested in offering this thing called “salvation” to people who needed to be ‘saved’.
But my understanding of Salvation that day in Peru, it didn’t have room for that kind of poverty, you know? And I’m not talking about her soul-God bless her…I’m talking about her body.
I’m talking about her physical needs.
It was the first time I started to understand that you really can’t separate the body from the soul when you talk about salvation. It was the first time I started to understand that eternal salvation has immediate implications.
God is the authority on eternal things. That’s why this Jubilee picture is as relevant today as it was when it was written. God knows we need a cycle of forgiveness and restoration–otherwise we turn into a people who don’t care about the land, a people who kill to get what we want–a people who sin without thinking…a people where the rich keep getting richer at the expense of the poor.
Without the Jubilee, life becomes drudgery. Even for those on the so-called ‘top’.
So God tried to incorporate this periodic ‘Reset’ into the life of His people.
Every fifty years, everything should go back to how it was.
At least every fifty years, everyone should have a chance to start over. Slaves should be freed, work should stop for a year, people should get their land back, their debts should go away…every fifty years.
Doesn’t it just make sense? Fifty years–roughly once in everyone’s adult life they should have the chance to ‘take it back’ and start over.
There’s no evidence that they ever tried it.
Not even once.
I’m guessing it was the ones who had gotten rich who stopped it from happening…but we’ll never know.
And we’ll never know what the world might have been like if they had tried it–because they never tried it.
See, I don’t know a lot about Jubilee or economics or business.
All I’m really sure of is that the woman I almost tripped over would have been a lot better off if she could have had a Jubilee year.
Whoever your poor old woman is–whether she lives in Haiti, or Thailand, or Honduras…Berlin, or Millersburg, or Kidron–I’m guessing she’d be a lot better off in a Jubilee year, too.
We all would be, because we all need a chance to start over.
It was part of God’s design for how his people ought to live.
But they never did it.
So, in keeping with the theme of God telling his people to do something, them not doing it, and then God having to spell it out more clearly–God sent the Jubilee.
I’m not making this up–look at Luke chapter 4, and you’ll see that Jesus IS the Jubilee!
In Luke 4:18-19, that’s where Jesus stands up in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah–the part where it says The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
That’s an allusion to the year of Jubilee!
Jesus’ mission on this world was to show a stubborn people what the year of Jubilee looked like–even if they refused to do it themselves–even if it meant losing his life in the process.
The truth is we’ve screwed things up big-time.
My 17 years of easy living are somehow responsible for putting that woman on the street. You can argue with me if you feel the need–but the truth is we all enjoy benefits that cripple the poor and damage our environment.
We don’t have a reset button.
All we really have is love and forgiveness and the ability to reconcile.
But God wasn’t satisfied to leave those concepts on the table. So he sent Christ, his only Son–to put flesh on those words for us, so we could see what they looked like in practice.
Salvation is today and Jesus is the Jubilee.
It’s a reality not just for some future state–it’s meant to be enjoyed and lived in right now. Body mind and soul. Anything short of that is not Jesus and is not Salvation.
Life is a pointless drag unless it’s aimed at things with eternal value–eternal significance.
I want my life right now to be included as part of the whole ‘eternal’ thing God is doing–Don’t you?
Jesus is the Jubilee. But He still needs us to put more flesh on it!
Share your stuff! Open your home!
Restore a relationship that’s gone bad. Plant a tree–plant a hope!
Give a word of liberation to someone who needs it!
These are the signs of the Jubilee–the signs of our salvation.