If you’ve been following the immigration crisis on any level, you’ve been confronted with a wide array of passionate responses and proposed solutions. Some will shock and some will instill a renewed hope in humankind. But everyone has their opinion, and everyone a voice. And the voices are shouting loudly.
Honor the dignity of humanity, especially children!
I know these are children, but illegal is illegal!
Help the helpless!
Close the borders!
Although Scripture has a lot to say concerning how we ought to treat the sojourner among us (Ex 22:21, 23:9, 23:16, 24:17-18, Deut 23:16, 24:17-18, Mal 3:5, Matt 25, Eph 2:12-19, Heb 11, Rom 12:13, 3 Jn 5, to name a few), I propose, through the use of Luke 16, that we embrace a Jubilee perspective in light of Jesus’ coming and his coming again.
The parable of the unjust steward at the beginning of Luke 16 is arguably one of the most difficult Lukan (or Synoptic) parables to understand. At first glance, the parable appears to commend dishonesty and acting in one’s own self-interest at all costs, but this interpretation can hardly hold weight placed alongside the rest of the kingdom ethic Jesus presents throughout the rest of the Lukan and Gospel material.
In light of both linguistic and historical-cultural considerations, the steward, out of his desperation and in a ‘last-ditch’ effort to secure his future after being “let go” by his master, acts on his master’s behalf and reduces debts, rightfully earning him the characterization as ‘unjust steward‘ (verse eight). The master does not commend the steward’s continued unjust behavior (nor does he address it at all), but merely commends the steward’s shrewd behavior in seeming to find a way out of imminent danger. In his commentary on Luke, J. Nolland summarizes this point well when he says, “…this new third-party situation keeps the transferred wealth out of his [the master’s] reach (presumably nothing remains of the master’s earlier losses). The master’s redress seems to be still limited to the dismissal of the steward. The steward has acted very cleverly indeed! He has found a way forward where there seemed to be none.”
The parable should be seen in light of Luke’s narrative as a whole, comprised of both his Gospel and the book of Acts. Luke’s purpose in writing his narrative in the context of Christian opposition was two-part: to remind his readers of God’s redemptive work and character and encourage them to continue Jesus’ legacy in seeking and saving the lost. Luke anticipated that the people of God needed a change of perspective in light of the opposition they were facing. To obtain a change in perspective, Luke posited that the people of God should look no further than the arrival of Jesus as the one who has inaugurated the kingdom, a metaphorical Year of Jubilee.
The Year of Jubilee was seen as an intensified Sabbath Year in which slaves were freed, debts were cancelled, the land was fallowed and land was returned. Luke intentionally shapes his Gospel and the book of Acts with this as a central motif. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus reads from Isaiah, Scripture containing ideas and words that are full of the themes of Jubilee. These themes re-surface again and again in both his Gospel account and in Acts. It is important to note that the theological basis behind the Year of Jubilee is a reminder that YHWH is the true owner of everything; therefore, slaves nor land could ever truly be sold. Although the cancellation of debts in the parable of the unjust steward offers a literal connection point to the events of the Year of Jubilee, Jesus offers a deeper meaning, an alternative perspective that transforms the lives of the disciples. Like the Year of Jubilee brings drastic change and a perspective shift that all things belong to YHWH, so the arrival of Jesus and anticipation of the age to come should bring drastic change in the lives of his disciples. In Jesus, the “last days” have arrived and an entirely new epoch of redemptive history has begun.
Living Within a Jubilee Framework Today
Jesus, through his life and teaching, showed that mercy, love, and true justice trump any established cultural norm, law, or self-preservation efforts. He consistently shattered others’ expectations of him, always pointing to the value and significance of the coming of the kingdom of God. But today, upholding the law, greed, cultural expectations, political affiliations, and self-preservation seem to be winning the day. And winning this argument.
If the kingdom of God has come in Jesus; if the metaphorical year of Jubilee is here and YHWH truly owns all, what should our response be? If we are stewards of everything we have been given, what does it look like to steward well here? Does our own definition of “justice,” or Christ’s own example and teaching on mercy win the day?
Will we embrace the Year of Jubilee, stand beside Jesus, and say:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
For a more detailed explanation of Luke 16, see my exposition Luke 16.