The year of jubilee: a hermeneutic for social and moral transformation in South Africa

19 May 2014

This article aims to show that the Old Testament concept of the year of jubilee is neither an anachronistic, nor a peripheral de- tail of Scripture. It is an integral part of it and indeed one her- meneutical tool for interpreting and applying it to social and mo- ral transformation in South Africa. Israel, liberated from slavery and returning to God, became a paradigm for the liberated slave to return to his inheritance in the year of jubilee celebrated every 50th year. Its underlying concerns are: justice, freedom, human dignity and rights. Jesus clearly understood his mission in terms of the proclama- tion of “the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:14-21), and de- monstrated this by preaching good news to the poor, freeing the prisoners, restoring sight to the blind, and releasing the op- pressed. He linked the mission of his followers with his own and with the promise and gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, seen as fulfilment and announcement of God’s promise, demonstrates that the kingdom of God is already here and still to come. The Book of Revelation gathers together this scriptural theme and presents the jubilee as good news for now and the future. Indeed, God’s future is presented as the ultimate jubilee. Although these institutions cannot be imposed on a secular democracy, there are implications here for holistic evangelism and mission as well as for social and moral transformation in South Africa. These implications, it is argued, should include a reference to the ‘missio Dei’ as Jesus expressed it: holistic evangelism; a commitment to the values and practices of restorative justice; restoration, healing and hope; economic justice and land re- form; ecological responsibility; and moral restoration.