Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
Lev 25:35-55

35 If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. 36 Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. 37 You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.

39 If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. 40 They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. 43 You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. 44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.

47 If resident aliens among you prosper, and if any of your kin fall into difficulty with one of them and sell themselves to an alien, or to a branch of the alien's family, 48 after they have sold themselves they shall have the right of redemption; one of their brothers may redeem them, 49 or their uncle or their uncle's son may redeem them, or anyone of their family who is of their own flesh may redeem them; or if they prosper they may redeem themselves. 50 They shall compute with the purchaser the total from the year when they sold themselves to the alien until the jubilee year; the price of the sale shall be applied to the number of years: the time they were with the owner shall be rated as the time of a hired laborer. 51 If many years remain, they shall pay for their redemption in proportion to the purchase price; 52 and if few years remain until the jubilee year, they shall compute thus: according to the years involved they shall make payment for their redemption. 53 As a laborer hired by the year they shall be under the alien's authority, who shall not, however, rule with harshness over them in your sight. 54 And if they have not been redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year. 55 For to me the people of Israel are servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Do you remember the Joseph story of Genesis? Maybe you can at least recall Donny Osmond belting, “Give me my colored coat! My amazing color coat!” in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Andrew Lloyd Weber certainly made the story memorable.

In Weber’s rendition and in the story I learned in Sunday school, Joseph is the hero of his own novella. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, Joseph rises through the ranks of Egyptian society until he is the assistant to Pharoah when a famine causes his brothers to come to Egypt and (ironically) beg for their lives. Joseph saves his brothers, which allows the tribes of Israel to emerge and the Israelites continue for another generation.

The less celebrated underside of Joseph’s story is that his plan to save his family from starvation enslaves them to Pharaoh. In the opening sentences of Exodus, the book immediately following Genesis, we learn that a Pharaoh has risen to power who does not remember Joseph. This is ominous. The Israelite slaves received decent treatment so long as Joseph’s legacy was remembered. Absent that memory, they were just as disposable as any low-class member of society.

Leviticus is a law book for a settled, landed people. A future-oriented book, Leviticus is about the process of becoming holy, or “going on to perfection,” as we say in Methodist circles. Holiness or perfection is always on the horizon. The laws in Leviticus use the memory of slavery in Egypt as a catalyst for a more merciful, just society in the Promised Land. Leviticus 25 institutes laws for a year of jubilee, extending the principles of the weekly sabbath to a sabbatical rest set for every seven years for the land, and also a “year of jubilee” in seven seven year cycles, ensuring that once every generation wealth would be restored to families. Once in a lifetime, debt would be erased, monopolies would be dissolved, and property would be restored to its owner. 

If there had been a year of jubilee in Egypt, all those baby boys would not have been murdered, there would have been no plagues to endure, and Egyptian lives would not have been lost in the Red Sea. The Israelites would not have been forced to wander for 40 years (a whole generation!), subsisting on little more than manna. 

Leviticus admonishes the community to support the impoverished, but not to extort them. Poverty makes people desperate and in desperation people may sell their bodies or their children or their freedom to provide for their families. We have a responsibility to help the poorest people in our community, but we cannot allow their desperation to swallow their identity as beloved children of God.

COVID-19 has turned all of our lives inside out. Many have become seriously ill, some have lost their lives, millions have lost their jobs, food banks are overwhelmed, untold numbers risk eviction or foreclosure, and we haven’t even yet estimated the medical debt with which many grieving families will be saddled. People are desperate and desperate people will chain themselves to the upper millstones of capitalism so that their children can eat.

It was so easy to celebrate Joseph for creating a system that saved his family from starvation but enslaved them for generations. The benevolence of a disowned brother feeding his unworthy brothers! 

As a community, it will be very easy for us to offer merciful aid and celebrate our success at this. We will bring our non-perishable, shelf-stable items to the food pantry and we should. We will make sandwiches by the hundreds and we must. It will be easy for us to meet the needs of the body during this season. It will be tempting to congratulate ourselves for solving these basic needs.
We have a responsibility to do much more. We are called to untie the millstones and rescue bodies from the constant churn of the systems that oppress them. We are called to let those oppressive systems dry up and lay fallow for a season so that we can reimagine something more just. This will look like advocating for new laws. It will look like creating sustainable and enduring financial resources for those most impacted. It will look like creative ingenuity that returns homes to the homeless and gives fair wages for honest work to women and men. Perhaps this is our year of jubilee.
God of legacy, memories, community, and illuminous horizons. Guide us through the brokenness of the past. Help us in the present to shed our coverings and allow us to see the vulnerability in the people and communities near and far. Lead us in light as we move forward dismantling millstones and reimagining the power and benevolence of a divine Jubilee.

Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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