Sabbath: Synergy of forces during the Jubilee

“We envision a world in which external debt no longer impoverishes nations and peoples by diverting resources from health, education, and the environment to pay rich countries and financial institutions, a world in which families and communities have a voice in economic policies and decisions that affect their lives, a world where right relationships are restored between nations. We respond to the call for Jubilee found in Judeo-Christian scripture; where those enslaved because of debts are freed, lands lost because of debt are returned, and communities torn by inequality are restored.” (Jubilee USA Network Vision Statement)

In fact, the cornerstone of Jesus’ work was the liberation of all oppressed and impoverished people. As a sign of this he announced a Jubilee, a year of the Lord’s favor, the spirit and meaning of which were well understood by the people of his time.

Presently, the vision of society captured in the Jubilee concept has come to an historical moment that holds potential for fulfillment on a scale previously unknown. This is so because the 2007 Sabbath year coincides with the halfway mark for achieving the United Nations Millennium Goals (MDGs), the articulation of the eight most pressing needs of the human community throughout the world. Seemingly God’s unifying Spirit is at work within the world today through this great endeavor spearheaded by the United Nations, gathering in the religious conviction, the political force of government and the determination of civil society, in order to move more surely toward the fullness of life.

Aside from this, another aspect of modern life that supports the Jubilee call is technology. For a profound change in human society to take place moral conviction, civil good will and government determination must be accompanied by the appropriate technology for responding to the magnitude of change required. For example, today we have the capacity to end human hunger because we have both the quantity of food necessary and the technology for transferring it rapidly to those in need. May our technology be placed freely and truly at the disposition of life at all levels of existence!

In the U.S. the effort to carry forward the Jubilee hope and the MDGs is captured in a highly practical action, the introduction in Congress of the Jubilee Act HR 2634. This bill will cancel the debt of approximately 67 impoverished countries allowing country funds to be used for meeting basic needs of people in keeping with the MDGs instead of using the funds to pay crippling debt. This follows a pattern of recent years where partial debt cancellation has been effective in achieving poverty alleviation for selected countries.

The immediate objective for the current year is a hearing of the bill in the House and Senate this fall. In addition to canceling the debt of impoverished nations, the bill removes economic conditionalities from the cancellation process; mandates transparency and accountability from governments and international financial institutions; and moves forward with more responsible lending practices.

As a sign of solidarity with impoverished people throughout the world Jubilee USA is calling for a 40- day fast during the time that the bill is being considered in hearings. The fast will begin on September 6 and end on October 15.

While the idea of Jubilee is of the Judeo Christian heritage, fast is a practice that resides at the center of each of the world’s great religious traditions. For those of us who are of the Christian tradition, we remember that Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights before commencing his public life. Moses of the Jewish tradition fasted for 40 days before receiving the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Fast is also a vigorous annual part of the Islamic tradition, and indeed the Jubilee Fast coincides this year with the 30 day fast of Ramadan, from September 13 to October 12. Within the Buddhist tradition fasting is also practiced, in order to be in solidarity with those who are hungry and in compassion with those who suffer. Lastly, a modern Hindu leader who fasted in order to bring his nation to independence and a new level of national identity was Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed, in fast and in simplicity of life style, Gandhi found himself to be not only a Hindu but in his heart a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.

Let us all embrace the vision of a world integrated through common spiritual practice and common vision and work to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015. Canceling debt from impoverished countries is fundamental to this process. In this Sabbath Year, in the spirit of Jubilee, let us pray and fast and advocate for this end!