This Jubilee proclamation (Leviticus 25) is echoed by Jesus in his first public appearance, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4: 18-19)

In a primarily agrarian economy which was the context of both Leviticus and first-century Palestine, the divine mandate to return land to families of origin (small subsistence farmers), forgive debts and re-distribute property is a corrective social contract to prevent the emergence of a feudalistic two-class system of landed elite and a perpetually poor underclass. It rejects winner-take-all economics in favor of a common good approach and this remains a bedrock principal of Catholic Social teaching.

The reaction to Jesus’ sermon and the ensuing exchange was fury, “They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”

Doesn’t this same outrage continue today for those who struggle for justice and directly address issues of growing wealth inequality and social exclusion in America?  What would be the characteristics of a modern day jubilee year?

“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.” Pope Francis I

—John Sealey is the provincial assistant for social and international ministries for the Chicago-Detroit and Wisconsin Jesuit provinces.