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Africa's Jubilee Begins Right Here

Mal Fletcher
Posted 10 August 2005
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In July, more than 200,000 people joined to together in London’s Hyde Park for the Live 8 event.

They came from all walks of life and from across the ethnic and generation divides not just to enjoy an historic musical celebration, but to collectively make a statement: ‘We believe that poverty, especially in Africa, can be ended, and we want to be a part of achieving that.’

Sir Bob Geldof, Bono of U2, and a host of other celebs and political heavyweights have lately joined forces to highlight the issue of world poverty.

If you’ve been listening to the discussion surrounding the Make Poverty History campaign and the recent Live 8 events, and have even a cursory understanding of the Bible story, you will have heard much that’s reminiscent of the biblical concept of ‘Jubilee’.

In Old Testament times, God ordained that every fiftieth year should be a year of what Jesus called ‘God’s favour’. All debts were to be cancelled; people who had lost land through debt could have it returned to them; and people living in debtors’ prisons were to be set free.

This command wasn’t always kept in Israel, yet Jubilee still stands as a reminder of how God acts and thinks.

I’ve visited Africa – mainly the south – on a number of occasions and I’ve seen a little of the poverty which has been such a feature of life for millions of people. Perhaps Jesus had those people in mind when, at the beginning of his mission, he announced his intention to proclaim Jubilee.

Christ came not to destroy the idea of Jubilee, but to extend the spirit of it to people in every nation.

The concept of Jubilee was always about more than cancelling debts. It was about correcting the unfair advantage taken in so many debt situations: the use of power and privilege, for example, to put people in debt.

Jubilee meant giving the ‘little guy’ a chance to climb out from under his mountain of debt.

Individually, you and I may not have the power to grant the most deserving African nations a year of jubilee, but you can make a difference to issues of need by adopting a Jubilee lifestyle.

The Jubilee lifestyle is characterised by a series of choices. The first is the decision to live with simplicity.

The God of Christian worldview does not call every person to take a vow of poverty -- the problem of poverty is not solved by more poverty. But we are expected and encouraged to move away from a life of excessive luxury and ease.

Material comfort isn't wrong in itself, but excessive comfort encourages self-sufficient pride and kills the one form of poverty actually applauded in Christian scripture – poverty of spirit, a reliance on God for the most fundamental of our needs. Excessive comfort breeds materialistic thinking, to the point where things start to ‘own’ us.

The Christian apostle Paul made an intriguing and uncomfortable statement. ‘I don’t run without a goal,’ he said. ‘And I don’t box by beating my fists in the air. I keep my body under control and make it my slave.’

The phrase we translate ‘under control’ is, in its original Greek wordage somewhat more striking. Paul gives us a word which means to tease or annoy an opponent until he gives in or complies.

Today, we’d be tempted to re-write it this way: ‘My body keeps me under control, until I’m a slave to what it wants, when it wants it!’

Paul’s version has us regularly reminding our bodies – our material desires – who is boss.

He encourages us to ‘tease’ our desires, by not giving in too readily to material wants, so that we bring our lives into compliance with a spiritual agenda and a more generous outlook.

In a world that’s crazy about consumerism and lifestyle options, there’s something attractive about a person who lives with simplicity, placing the whole of life in subservience to a higher calling.

Jubilee lifestyle also involves contentment.

. The ancient story of Job is instructive. This wealthy and upright man lost everything he possessed in one day, through no fault of his own. All that remained to him were a few friends of the type who make you prefer your enemies!

What was Job’s first response?

When I would most likely have broken out the Muddy Water albums and sang the blues, Job turned his eyes heavenward and declared: ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’

Make no mistake; Job was genuinely hurting when he said this. Yet he’d learned the powerful lesson of contentment.

Being content does not mean lying down and taking whatever life dishes up to you, without a whimper. It means being grateful for what you still have, when your natural tendency might be to focus on what you've lost.

Jubilee living is also about giving ‘dangerously’. It's no credit to us, Jesus taught, if we only lend to those from whom we can expect a return. There’s nothing extraordinary about that kind of giving – it requires no great effort or commitment.

We must, by doing more than is expected, prophetically challenge the status quo and in so doing point the way to a better kind of world.

Giving dangerously means going beyond the call of duty in our support of worthy organisations and people.

What’s your view?

Can we make a difference to world poverty by changing our individual lifestyles?



Keywords: social comment | African poverty | Live 8 | Africa | poverty | world poverty | jubilee | aid | equitable trade | debt relief | Mal Fletcher | Bob Geldof | Bono

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