Beyond Jubilee

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 25.9-10
9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.

Reflection: Beyond Jubilee
By John Tillman

Weekly sabbaths bring us freedom and joy in this world. This freedom and joy grows more expansive as we ponder the sabbath of years and Jubilee.

Sabbath years built, in an exponential crescendo, to Jubilee. After seven septennial sabbath years, trumpets were to announce liberty throughout the land. Liberty from debt. Liberty from enslavement. Jubilee brought a national reset of property and land ownership. The “monopoly game” was to be folded up, properties redistributed, and the game started over with all participants on equal footing once more. This was to remind Israel that the land did not belong to them. It belonged to the Lord. 

It is difficult for us to imagine such an economic system. In the dominant economic systems of their world and ours, the game never stops and each generation starts the game with an inherited benefit or handicap. Generational wealth and poverty are features, not bugs, of every world economic system in history. 

Biblical laws are intended to be a check on our tendencies toward greed, violence, and inequity. Jubilee was a systemic reboot, restoring the moral code God desired—equity, justice, righteousness, unity.

Talking about Jubilee upsets some people. Some dogmatically demand implementation of Jubilee in today’s economic terms, even though they would not submit to any other laws from the Old Testament. Others work just as stubbornly to deemphasize or even ignore Jubilee because it conflicts with their economic beliefs. (It is beyond the scope of this devotional to discuss how some of us have greater religious devotion to and faith in sociological, economic, and political ideas than we do in scripture or theological ideas…)

We must remember that many systems and laws in the Bible, like Jubilee, are bandaids on gaping wounds. For example, Jesus challenged laws regarding marriage and the sabbath, saying they did not complete God’s intention or will. (Matthew 19.3-12; Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-10; Luke 13.10-16) We have little evidence of how Israel enacted Jubilee, but to whatever degree they did, it was insufficient. Great inequities persisted. (Deuteronomy 15.7, 11; 1 Samuel 2.8; Isaiah 41.17; Matthew 19.21, 26.11)

Implementing Jubilee would be insufficient. The gospel compels us to go beyond it. As the sacrifice of Christ surpasses the sacrifice of lambs, and our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, our sacrificial generosity should surpass that of Jubilee. (Matthew 5.20)

In Jesus, Jubilee is now and forever. Jubilee is the gospel. (Isaiah 55.1-2; John 7.37; Revelation 22.17

May our voices and actions be jubilant trumpets declaring liberty, freedom, and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance. — Psalm 90.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading

Leviticus 25 (Listen 7:41)
Acts 21 (Listen 5:55)

This Weekend’s Reading
Leviticus 26 (Listen 6:22), Acts 22 (Listen 4:26)
Leviticus 27 (Listen 4:45), Acts 23 (Listen 5:15)

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Holidays are Tabernacles

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 23:2
2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.

Reflection: Holidays are Tabernacles
By Erin Newton

Imagine you are far from home, perhaps forced away or maybe you’ve never found a place to call home. It is easy to become discouraged and lonely. You begin to wonder, “Who am I?”

Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years waiting for the place they would call home. In the exile, they watched their livelihood burn to the ground as they were forced into another wilderness.

The book of Leviticus has painstakingly detailed Israel’s religious identity. From the foods to eat to the clothes to wear, this book has covered seemingly every nook and cranny of their lives. Leviticus has brought order to their worship, cleanliness, relationships, and physical bodies. Now God will remind them of the order of time.

Israel participated in seven festivals a year and every seventh day was set aside as holy. The festivals were a periodic means of organizing time, making the calendar something that could define the people even when they were not in their land and felt far from God’s presence.

Richard Boyce summarizes the purpose of the festivals, “Every week, every month, every year now becomes a ‘camp’ wherein God’s holy presence might be manifest, through the observance of festivals.”

Even when they are far from home, God has created a temporal map to routinely bring them into his presence.

As Christians, we mark our calendar with different holy days. We focus on Christmas and Easter with some attention to Good Friday. Some churches also include celebrations for Epiphany, Pentecost, All Saints Day, and others.

We celebrate our holidays, but so do our neighbors. We are not distinguished because of our festivals.

The question becomes: Do we need more holidays to regain our religious identity, or do we need to reclaim our focus on the days already marked out for us?

We may feel lost, homesick, or unsure about where we fit in. We either can’t find our home or it’s out of our reach. It could be strained relationships or spiritual abuse that has created the distance. No matter the reason, at home or in exile, we can remember that our time is marked out for God.

At home or in pursuit of a new community, taking periodic days to focus on our relationship with God will help us gain a sense of identity. There is peace when we take the time to rest, remember, and reunite with God’s presence.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found. I will call upon his name while he is near.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 23 (Listen 6:31)
Acts 19 (Listen 5:47)

Read more about What Time is It?
Today, let us pray that we will understand the times and seasons that we find ourselves in.

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Older Than the Old Way

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 18.24-28
24 “ ‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 

Reflection: Older Than the Old Way
By John Tillman

There’s an argument that the biblical sexual ethic is old and outdated. “That was the old way. Now we must think about sex in a new way.” The truth is more complicated.

Biblical sexuality is the “original” idea from page one of the Bible, but we rejected it on page two and never looked back. There is nothing “new” about the modern sexual climate. Sex has always been abused by the powerful, made a tool of addiction and manipulation, peddled for money, intertwined with slavery, and unlimited in its scope. This free-for-all leaves casualties and abuse in its wake.

Sexual ethics go beyond personal choices. God says the land, the dirt we came from, is affected by our defilement of one another. When we mistreat each other, the land itself gets sick. Creation is not inanimate, unaffected matter. “Cursed is the ground,” God says. And why? “Because of you.” (Genesis 3.17; 4.10-12)

When the only sexual limit is consent, human bodies, souls, and emotions are just hills to be mined or streams to be tapped. Secure the mineral and water rights; take what you want. Strip mine, clear cut, dam them up, dry them up, poison them…who cares? They signed on the dotted line. This is the old way. But older than the old way, is God’s way.

Current cultural sexual ethics are old, but in every age, God carved out for himself people to be different—to return to Eden, little by little. (Matthew 19.4; Mark 10.5-6)

In Leviticus, God instructs his people to be distinct in how they practice everything from handling money to how to treat one another’s bodies. God’s language centers on care for others, respect, and self-control. No one group is singled out. God’s people must be distinct from the pattern of normality all around them. “What is normal for them, must not be normal for you. What seems natural to them, must not be natural to you.”

This didn’t start in Leviticus. Throughout the Bible, there is a consistent pattern of God subverting the cultural norms of sex among those who follow him. God worked gradually and people followed imperfectly. They consistently followed culture rather than him, but God worked with and among them even amidst failure.

We are a part of this people. We may fail at times, but if we continually turn to him, he will continue to undo our curses and make us blessings to our land.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 18 (Listen 3:46
Acts 14 (Listen 3:54)

This Weekend’s Reading
Leviticus 19 (Listen 4:39), Acts 15 (Listen 5:43)
Leviticus 20 (Listen 4:18), Acts 16 (Listen 5:53)

Read more about It’s in the Bible
If we look carefully, we can see God actively disrupting cultural assumptions and human traditions that people in scripture accepted as normal.

Read more about Beyond Consent
May each of us submit every part of our identities, including our sexuality, to God’s calling in our lives.

Life in the Blood

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 17.10-12
10 “ ‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.” 

Genesis 4.10-12
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 

Genesis 9.4-5
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

From John: We live in a world of casual, uncaring, bloodshed. Worse than that…we are often unmoved by that bloodshed. We are unmoved by children dying in shootings or children dying crossing the border or children dying in the womb. At least, not moved enough to change anything. As Russell Moore said in a recent Christianity Today article, “Americans—especially Christians—should ask just how much we have adjusted ourselves to this kind of horror. How numb to it all have we become?” 

We need to reinvigorate our hearts to care about the shedding of blood, our careless collaboration in it, and our callous response to seeing it. Because of this, we return to this rewritten devotional from 2021.

Reflection: Life in the Blood
By John Tillman

Biological facts often reveal spiritual truth. Our life really is in our blood. 

We often measure life based on brain activity. For example, the rapper, DMX, recently died after life support was removed following a coma/vegetative state. However, many of the brain’s commands are carried out by the hormones, proteins, and other chemical signals that travel through the blood.

Everything that makes us alive circulates in our blood. Life “moves” within us even when we are at rest. When blood stops moving, or is spilled out, life ends. 

The most important and revealing reason for the prohibitions regarding blood was spiritual not physical. Blood is life given for atonement. Since the blood of the first animal, killed by God in the garden to clothe Adam and Eve, animals have given their lives for human sin and creation has groaned for the blood spilled. (Genesis 3.21; Genesis 4.10-12; Romans 8.20-23)

All spilled blood, God says, is precious and holy, not only on its own but because it points to the blood of Jesus. Christ’s blood is the most precious blood in history, but every drop of blood shed draws precious meaning from his. 

Blood is still life and it should disturb us when blood is spilled. Blood is the life of our brothers and sisters of every race. Blood is the life of the unborn. Blood is the life of those dying of Covid. Blood is the life of both Christians and non-Christians murdered for their faith. Blood is the life of victims of every kind of violence whether in distant wars or neighborhood streets, whether in mass shootings or lone suicides.

So both the lives of a police officer lost stopping a mass shooting in Colorado and of a Black citizen, crushed by a police officer’s knee are united in that their lives point to and plea for Christ’s blood. One is lost in self-sacrifice and one cries out from the ground in a plea for justice.

May we revive a holy respect for blood, no matter where, how, or by whom it is shed. May we not carelessly “eat” blood by profiting from violence, supporting bloodshed, or indifferently shrugging off bloodshed that doesn’t affect us.

God will require an account. (Genesis 9.5; Isaiah 5.7) When he does, we must plead the blood of Jesus to cover all of our bloodshed. Only in his blood will we find true life. (John 6.53-57)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Jesus taught us, saying: “He who comes from above is above all others; he who is of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven bears witness to things he has seen and heard…since he whom God has sent speaks God’s own words, for God gives him the Spirit without reserve.” — John 3.31

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 17 (Listen 2:39) 
Acts 13 (Listen 7:36)

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Two Goats and Jesus

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 16:21-22
21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.

Reflection: Two Goats and Jesus
By Erin Newton

Easter is over. What if we still don’t understand it?

Two men on Resurrection morning asked, “What just happened?” Jesus of Nazareth, powerful in word and deed, was crucified (Luke 24). They witnessed the horrifying event but walked away with more questions than answers. It was all so confusing.

Cleopas and his friend were called “slow to believe.” I think their slowness in faith was rooted in their inability to understand and not because they were lazy. Not because they needed higher education. Not because they were of lesser genius. Understanding takes time, questions, and pondering what we think we already know.

We have the benefit of the Spirit to help us as we look back on the Old Testament. When we think about Easter, we ponder why Jesus had to die—what was the meaning of his death? For those questions, one place we look is Leviticus 16.

Two goats are gathered for the Day of Atonement. One goat is killed, and its blood is used to cleanse the sanctuary from the innermost rooms to the outer. The second goat bears the fullness of the iniquities of the people and is banished from the community.

Jacob Milgrom explains, “Evil was banished to its place of origin (e.g., the netherworld, wilderness) or to some place in which its malefic powers could work to the benefit of the sender (e.g., to enemy territory) or in which it could do no harm at all (mountains, wilderness).” A ritual designed to purge and eliminate.

Jesus’ death on the cross more fully accomplishes this ritual. His blood purifies our approach to God so we can enter his presence without fear. His death banishes the power of sin to the wilderness, and we can be free from the bondage of evil.

Hebrews 10:10 says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The need for ritual atonement is over but we still wrestle with how it all works.

Do we now descend into our daily routines? Do we re-enter the spiritually apathetic weeks on the calendar? I hope we do not. I hope we keep pondering the Gospel. I hope we never tire of asking questions and seeking answers.

Even the disciples left the cross with questions. Faith is a process. May our hearts, just like Cleopas’, burn within us as the Scriptures are opened.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 16 (Listen 5:36
Acts 12 (Listen 3:49)

Read more about Taking Sin Seriously
Jesus takes sin far more seriously than anyone…sin is deadly serious business to the one who came to die for sins.

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