This past summer, the church Sunday School examined the Gospel of Luke. At one point, special attention and discussion was held over Luke 4:16-30. The text speaks of Jesus' proclamation of himself to his hometown-crowd in Nazareth; he paraphrases Isaiah 58:6, and directly quotes Isaiah 61:1-2.
When Jesus does so, he is not just fulfilling scripture though. Certainly, he is indeed doing that, but there is a distinct reason that Christ chose these particular bits of Isaiah. There are myriad Old Testament scriptures pointing towards Jesus that would have worked, but Christ chose this text. Jesus seldom did anything arbitrarily, and that holds true for this text.
Consider the whole of Isaiah 61...the chapter speaks of "The Year of the Lord's Favor". What is this year of the Lord's favor? Judging by the content and context of the chapter, it would seem right and fitting to equate this "Year of Favor" with the Jewish "Year of Jubilees" (Leviticus 25:8). The Year of Jubilees was to be a special time that happened once every several years, wherein slaves would be set free, debts would be forgiven, and life in general would hit the reset button.
However, there is no historical evidence that the Jewish people ever actually observed the time of Jubilees. This is perhaps understandable...after all, can one imagine what a dramatic change would occur if every personal debt in America was forgiven tomorrow? Things could get pretty chaotic, and it would be an accountants worst nightmare. However, there is one exception to the complete dismissal of this command from Leviticus.
In chapter 34 of the book of Jeremiah, things are very bad for the nation of Judah. The armies of Babylon are ravaging the land, and things look rather grim. It is then that Zedekiah, King of Judah, does something remarkable...he proclaims freedom for the slaves (Jeremiah 34:8). Zedekiah proclaims the year of Jubilees! That would be great news, for though the nation was in trouble, it's people might experience a new lease on life. Yet, it was not to be. Catching up with Jeremiah at verse 11 and 16, we see that despite Zedekiah's effort at reform...the people just couldn't let go.
There is some argument as to whether the owners took their slaves back by force, or simply waited for these people with no capital, connections, or opportunities to fall back into debt. What is clear however, is that the fortunate were reluctant to proclaim deliverance to their brethren in bondage. This same theme can be observed in the resentment held in the heart of the prodigal son's elder brother (further, that famous parable is found only in Luke; likewise Jesus quote of Isaiah).
So what is to be learned from this motley assortment of kings, authors, quaint holidays, and prophets?
Simply, that regardless of circumstance, sensibility, or precedent, we should never be reluctant to share the true liberty that is found in the redemptive power of Christ. Whether one is in bondage to sin, hopelessness, envy, or debt, the Day of the Lord brings the eternity of Jubilee...and all are invited.