For the Love of Money

Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton. Koeppel serves on the diocesan Stewardship Resources team and the diocesan Creation Care Initiative.

“Welcome aboard time travel Flight 42, to the ancient Middle East, with stop-overs in Nazareth, on Mt. Sinai, and a truly ancient kingdom. I’m Peter, your tour guide on today’s trip.”

“Sit back, relax, keep your seat backs in a comfortably up-right position; please note the location of the emergency exits, and remember: the emergency exits are not functional during time travel—we wouldn’t want to lose you forever.”

“So here we are at our first stop: Nazareth. A young man named Jesus is in the local temple. He and his listeners can’t see or hear us. Watch and listen to what he is reading:

‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Isaiah 61:1-2 (NIV))

After he rolls up and returns the scroll to the attendant: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:20).”

“I wish we had more time to stay and listen to his exposition of the text, as well as observe his listeners’ reaction, but our schedule calls for us to get back on our time travel flight and move on to the next stop.”

“Make yourselves comfortable in our time travel vessel, I will let you know when we’re at our next stop. In the seat pocket in front of you, you will find a copy of Luke 4 and Isaiah 61, so you can read up on what we just watched and heard.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have just arrived at our second stop: here we are, in the time of Moses—on Mount Sinai, receiving what subsequently was recorded in Leviticus 25:8-17. Let’s see what’s in Leviticus 25:13-17. Following the institution of a regular schedule to declare a Year of the Lord, we find:

‘In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.

If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.’

Don’t you think this is a very sophisticated approach to buying and selling property? It clearly recognizes that property, once sold, is to be returned to its prior state during the next Year of the Lord, and that its price, hence, depends on the proximity to the Year of the Lord.”

“Let’s please get back into our time travel vessel for our third and final stop; this will take us into an uncertain moment in time, so be prepared for some surprises! While we are in transit you might want to peruse Leviticus 25, which has been placed into the seat pocket in front of you.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, here we are at our third stop: in a truly ancient kingdom in the middle east; please be careful exiting the vessel—and stay close by—if we lose you, we might not be able to retrieve you as our precise location in time is somewhat uncertain!”

“We have landed in the ruler’s house, where his advisors are pondering an important question: the king’s ability to obtain and store grain to feed his people in case of a failed harvest has been gradually eroded over time, as his farming population sold more and more of their crop-producing land to a few people—not to make money, just to make ends meet. Having lost control over their crops, the farmers can no longer make the required contribution to the king’s warehouses, and food stocks to be used in case of an emergency are starting to run low. Let’s watch and listen to their discussion and see what recommendation they come up with!”

“It sounds like they are coming up with a radical solution: they will recommend to the king to cancel all debt, restore all land to its prior owners, likewise all persons whose labor has been pledged in return for money, whether they were free or enslaved previously. The king should call this a ‘Year of Celebration.’”

“Let’s please get back into our time travel vessel, it’s time to return to the present. Unlike our prior stops, we won’t be able to offer you a printed copy of the advisors’ final recommendation or the king’s eventual decision; we’re simply too far back in time. But I can tell you that the king accepted the recommendation to declare such a year of celebration—much to the consternation of the buyers who had amassed the land and gained control of the crops. But when faced with the choice of being able to protect his people from famine, or watching them starve, even to death, in case of a bad harvest, the king decided that feeding them was a higher duty than preserving the wealth accumulated by a few families in his kingdom.”

“I can also tell you, that this king’s decision spread throughout neighboring kingdoms, and it became customary to declare such years of celebration upon the ascendancy of a new ruler to the throne.”

“While you settle into your seat for the return to the present, you might want to take a second look at your copy of Leviticus 25 – I particularly call your attention again to Leviticus 25:15-16: here we see that the custom of a year of jubilee has matured to the point where proximity to a year of jubilee determines the price of a good or service. And please also note that this declaration is embedded between two—not just one—admonitions not to take advantage of each other.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have returned to the present, and will momentarily begin disembarking from our vessel. Please make sure to take all your belongings, and feel free to keep the complimentary copies of Luke 4, Isaiah 61, and Leviticus 25.”

“As you return to your daily lives, I ask you to think about what you saw and learned on today’s trip through a good five thousand years of history: how a practice sorely needed to prevent hunger and starvation became firmly entrenched in the Middle East, refined in Leviticus, and was still well known in Jesus’ time. Yet, somehow, this custom, which reflects an integral part of the teaching and ministry of Jesus, appears to have been lost among his followers. Can you imagine what our economies and societies would look like, if we observed a regular Year of the Lord—during which all debt was forgiven, all indentured persons set free? In my mind, they would look remarkably different from our present economy and society—far less driven by the need to consume and own, and the need to go into debt to be able to do so. What do you think?”

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