10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12 For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. … 18 You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. … 23 The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. 24 Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land. 25 If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. 26 If the person has no one to redeem it, but then prospers and finds sufficient means to do so, 27 the years since its sale shall be computed and the difference shall be refunded to the person to whom it was sold, and the property shall be returned. 28 But if there are not sufficient means to recover it, what was sold shall remain with the purchaser until the year of jubilee; in the jubilee it shall be released, and the property shall be returned.
– Leviticus 25:10-12, 18, 23-28, NRSV
When New York City was named the “new epicenter” of the coronavirus pandemic, the news didn’t come as much of a surprise. Viruses love cities. A virus’ main purpose — perhaps its only purpose — is to replicate, to reproduce, to spread… and all of that replicating and reproducing and spreading is easier in a crowd. So viruses love crowds. Viruses love cities. Viruses love population density. With over eight million people living in the five boroughs, New York City is one of the most densely-populated urban areas in the world.
Given the population density alone, New York City’s newfound status as the pandemic’s new epicenter was not surprising news. Yet in the midst of that news, there was other, better, more surprising news. One such piece of news appeared in the most recent edition of the periodical Christian Century, with this report:
“Almost 40 percent of renters in New York City were likely unable to pay their April rent due to loss of jobs and incomes. Landlord Mario Salerno responded by waiving the April rent for more than 200 tenants. ‘My concern is everyone’s health,’ said Salerno. ‘I told them just to look out for your neighbor and make sure that everyone has food on their table.’ One tenant said he was surprised but not shocked by Salerno’s generosity, calling him a model landlord who attends to requests for help immediately.”
Two hundred rent payments waived. Two hundred potential renters’ debts forgiven. For the landlord, it must’ve been a significant — albeit voluntary — financial loss. For those two hundred tenants, it must’ve been cause for relief, for celebration, for jubilation. It was… a miniature jubilee.
We read of the “Year of Jubilee” in the words of the Old Testament. According to the book of Leviticus, the Year of Jubilee (occurring once every fifty years) was a year in which the land would have rest, slaves and prisoners would have freedom, and debtors would have forgiveness. All debts forgiven, every fifty years.
It’s not clear, of course, how widely or regularly God’s people practiced this commandment, this jubilee. Yet it’s a powerful concept, all the same. And in the midst of a pandemic, even a glimpse of jubilee is a powerful source of hope.
Be on the lookout, friends, for glimpses of jubilee.
And as you do, remember, friends:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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