Year of Jubilee
Don't you find yourself wondering how we're ever going to clean up this mess? As salaries are withheld, and savings dry up, and rent goes unpaid, and goods and services are harder to come by, how will people get back on their feet? How are we going to reset the default button once the coronavirus has left us?
The Bible is not generally regarded as a helpful play book for people in crisis, not the way it's often milked for its platitudes or wielded for its judgements. But the Law of Moses, in the Hebrew Scriptures, actually introduced measures precisely applicable to our present-day predicament, though there is no evidence they were ever acted upon.
Every fiftieth year, it says, shall be a Year of Jubilee. In that year, balance is restored. Exiles are welcomed home. The land is given a rest. Those in servitude are set free. All debts are forgiven. People will buy and sell fairly, no one taking advantage of anyone else. Employers will not oppress their employees, because we're all servants ... of God. (Leviticus 25)
Think of it. Everyone gets a break. Everyone. In arrears for your rent? Forgiven. Depleted of your resources? Restored. Marginalized by poverty or by illness? Returned. The slate is wiped clean, no one gets to take advantage of another's misfortune, and the world is reset.
This may take an exercise of the imagination. God knows how it would even work. But how else do we move on with dignity and with equity, returning to people their lost ground so they can rebuild? How else do we avert the social consequences, with some benefitting from the misfortune of others, which could actually become a worse blight than the virus itself.
Both the public and private sectors are already implementing ways to counteract the coming economic downturn. EI for those who have lost their jobs. Deferment of mortgage payments for those unable to pay up. Support packages for small businesses. Such measures are a start. They will work to the extent that citizens support them, and then dream up initiatives of their own, like shopping locally.
Perhaps the greatest gain from a Year of Jubilee would be what it would do to the hearts of ordinary people. Having made sacrifices for the sake of the most vulnerable among us, the ones most susceptible to life-threatening infection, we would then have the opportunity to help one another get back on our feet. We would be a people moved not by fear and selfishness, but by compassion. It may be a pie in the sky. But it's not a bad idea.