The Age of the Jubilee

Posted by David

It’s clear to me that one of the hardier roots to our present financial and economic problems is usury. The traditional arguments against usury are laid out in a variety of places on the web (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usury), so I won’t go there today. I’m going to approach it from the point of promises and expectations.

To begin, let’s say you lend someone $1,000 to buy a car. He promises to pay you back and you expect him to do so. The keywords here are “expect” and “promise.” Not all lending requires one to have expectations and make promises. But in our example, notice that he is required to lie by promising to pay you back (he may or may not be able to pay you back). Secondly, you’re making him indebted to you through his promise and your expectation. For all practical purposes he is bound to you as a debt-slave, and it must be added that bondage goes both ways. On top of that, if you charge him interest, then you are binding him to you beyond the balance of the debt. Scales are fair when the sides are equally balanced. Usury unfairly weighs the scales.

You argue that say he delivers pizza with that car, then he’s made some money on that car of which you should have a cut. This may be true, but again, it’s about expectations. Work may create more wealth or it may not. He might need to get a new transmission and there goes all the profits. Work is not financially fruitful all of the time. Moreover, if we can’t expect someone to repay a debt, then we can’t expect him to pay the interest either.

Now if he doesn’t promise to pay you back, but just says that he’ll do his best, then he’s not lying. And if you truly don’t expect him to pay you back, then you’re not making him a debt-slave. But how often is that the case in our modern world? How often is this the case within our hearts?  Not only do we expect to get our money back from the bank we lend it to, but we also expect interest as well.

Jesus explains how our hearts should be in regards to lending and borrowing.

Luke 6:35 says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great.”

However, if we read The Parable of the Ten Minas, doesn’t he tell us to do the opposite? Shouldn’t we expect a return from our debtors?

“Finally the master said to him, ‘Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'” – Luke 19:23

In the parables, we read what our hearts want to read, which is not always the truth of the story. Jesus is saying to lend freely, to lend our money, to lend our talents, to lend our lives, and when we do so, inevitably, there will be reward. We lend freely. We lend without bondage, “hoping for nothing again.” In fact, he’s also saying that if we don’t lend and instead horde, then our wealth, our talents and our lives will just stagnate and rot. (This is one reason, the whole survive the economic crisis buy gold sales pitch is so repulsive to me.)

I have money in the banks. My money is being lent out. But I pray that my heart is “hoping for nothing again” from it. It’s not really my money anyway, is it? Could I be so egocentric to think that any particular thing in this world is mine? On the other hand, could I be so detached to think that nothing is mine? My breath is mine for an instant; in me and out of me. If it sits too long in my lungs, it becomes poison.

Burying our talents and our gold may be poison, but so also is indebtedness. In the bondage of debt-slave and the master, the stagnating wealth becomes poison like high CO2 concentrations in the lungs. Instead of stagnating in one person’s lungs, it stagnates amongst two. 

However, we must remember what happens when you try to hold your breath? It’s inevitable, you will breathe. The debt-bonds will also be broken. There was a remedy for the moneylender-debtor bondage in the Hebrew world and that was the Year of the Jubilee. Not only was this year good for the debtor, but it was also good for the moneylender. For bondage goes both ways. The moneylender and debtor are a single unit. They are bound by the breaths of promises and the covetous heart’s expectations. They are chained together in bondage.

As we see the injustice of debt and usury crashing our financial world around us, there might be a tendency to be afraid about what’s next. It’s just that we’re so used to living with stagnating air that we don’t know what it’s like to breathe anymore. But fear not,  fresh air is coming. Here comes the Jubilee.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Age of the Jubilee

  1. Mike Zelenka

    The one who promises to pay back is not a liar. What he is promising is his intention that is also the expectation of the lender. Of course the person borrowing is indebted, but the term “debt-slave” is your own coinage and implies some kind of slavery. Nonsense! Charging interest (what you call usury) does not “unfairly weigh the scales.” You are also using usury in the archaic meaning. It currently means charging excessive interest.

    Your third paragraph is full of logical holes. The reasonable expectation is that with the loan the borrower will enhance his/her ability to function in some way that will be seen by her/him as worth the encumbrance of the loan.

    Just because Jesus made specific recommendations doesn’t make his comments applicable in the 21st century. Obviously we should not be hoarders of anything – and we should be generous.

    The notion that indebtedness is poison is a gross exaggeration, completely false. Using inappropriate terms like “bondage of debt-slave and the master” and “stagnating wealth becomes poison like high CO2 concentrations in the lungs” grossly distorts the reality of reasonable indebtedness.

    “The injustice of debt and usury” is not what has caused the crash of our financial world. Rather it has been dishonesty and greed.

    The economics of our society operates to some extent using borrowing and lending as a useful vehicle to facilitate transactions, production, and purchasing. Personally, if I had not been able or allowed to borrow from time to time, my life (in this, our society the parameters of which we must function within to some extent) would have been in many ways circumscribed. Yes, usury, which is the lending at an exorbitant or illegal rate of interest is bad; and in many ways the processes of borrowing and lending is problematic, but in the across the board manner that you suggest? No. Mama Mia!

  2. I guess I got some ‘splainin’ to do.

    First, I think that it is impossible for a highly-complex industrial society to exist without debt and usury. Interest is the motive by which people lend their money. But I don’t really think that a highly-complex industrial society is a good thing. In my opinion, there are more woes and injustices that go with this type of society than there are pluses.

    Also, there are many things that are considered ‘okay’ in our society, that really aren’t okay. They are considered okay because we wouldn’t exist without them. The concept of a “just war” is an example. All societies that go to war end up manipulating the idea of just war in order to justify to their soldiers and their families that this war or that war is justified. No society would currently exist if some forefather of theirs didn’t believe it was okay to fight and kill in some war or another.

    ‘Society’ in general couldn’t exist without many of the things that are unjust. War, usury, large-scale destruction of natural resources and even things like prostitution and lying are some of ‘necessary’ evils of our world. They fill a required role within large complex societies. They are ‘structural niches’ within society. Without these structural niches the whole society would cease to exist. Society in general must convince its members that these things are okay. Group-thinks develop that say these things are okay under certain conditions. These group-thinks must develop for the survival for society. It doesn’t mean these things are okay.

    Now, I must also state that many of us who end up going along with these things do so without full knowledge. It is my belief that we are not culpable for an injustice if we don’t understand it. So, if I engage or support an unjust war, not knowing that it’s really unjust, then I’m innocent of the bloodshed. When Jesus was on the cross he said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The same goes for usury. But when we have full knowledge and deliberate consent, then we’re culpable.

  3. I think I need to clarify one more thing…

    What I’m saying is that the justice or injustice of usury is an issue of the heart. What are the heart’s expectations and puposes behind usury? If one’s motives are greed or to establish bondage, then it’s clearly wrong. If you take a loan or provide a loan with interest then it’s the heart’s intent that determines whether your acting with good or unjust motives.

    And actually, if one has wealth, then one should keep it flowin and loan it out freely and expect that God will provide a return on it (although that return may or may not be monetary or even related to the world’s view wealth).

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