The Jubilee: Calling us to #BringThemHere

 By Mike Bowden


31 October 2016


The Jubilee Year of Mercy established by Pope Francis concludes on November the 20th. In May this year renowned scripture scholar, Sister Veronica Lawson worked with a small group of parishioners of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish Alice Springs on some of the material in her book The Blessing of Mercy: Bible Perspectives and Ecological Challenges.

This week after reading of the anticipated conclusion to the Year of Mercy I consulted Veronica’s book which was published to coincide with the Pope’s aspirations. She quotes Pope Francis’s prayer that we “be renewed by God’s mercy … and become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish”.

One of the primary concepts I drew from Veronica’s work is her teaching that a key aspect of God’s Mercy is Compassion. At one point she demonstrated that the Greek word for innards, splanchna, is used of God’s mercy and of the mercy that Jesus showed towards those on the edge. Mercy is experienced in the gut, in our innards, right in the core of our being. It is felt as an emotion and always results in action for justice.

The Arrernte of Central Australia locate it rather than in the heart as in the throat [ahentye]. And since God is in us and we are in God then God experiences Mercy deep in God’s being and we experience it in our beings, our living from moment to moment. And as Elizabeth Johnson teaches, God’s being is not experienced as a noun but as a verb. For God just being God means eternal compassion in action. Veronica also spoke of God’s Mercy in Hebrew as womb-compassion (raḥamîm); the deep love and sense of care that a mother has for the child of her womb. She told her audience that there are many different words or metaphors in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament for Mercy.

I went to the very first section of her book and found one, the Hebrew word for mercy hemlah which can mean both ‘Liberation’ and ‘Compassion’. Here she directed us to the story of the women who cooperated to save the children-the midwives, Moses’ mother & sister & Pharaoh’s daughter with her entourage (Exodus 1:8-2:10). This story is ultimately about God’s commitment to the liberation of God’s people, and not just God’s people the Israelites, but in our modern context All People are liberated by God’s saving action.  Pharaoh finally let the people leave, though very reluctantly and only after the plagues threatened to decimate the population. This is a foundational Hebrew text. The experience of enslavement and liberation are defining motifs in the story of Israel and Israel’s establishment of a Covenant with YHWH. In a moving preliminary section Genesis tells of the role of Pharaoh’s daughter who, on coming to the river to bathe, ‘sees’ and ‘hears’ the crying, infant Moses confined in a basket floating near the bank of the crocodile infested Nile River?. She is moved with compassion [ḥamal]. The verb  ḥamal is a cognate of ḥemlah, but the noun is not used here. This event precedes the escape from Egypt by a generation yet is offered in anticipation of the role of listening to the cry of the abandoned and seeing the plight of the stranded as being a truly universal human sentiment, just as they are in the very heart of God. Pharaoh’s daughter was not a privileged member of the Hebrew people yet she still carried the imprint of God’s creation that made the entire creation ‘good’. Compassion does not belong to Israel alone or to Christians or religious adherents only. Compassion is in our DNA.

Of course Pharaoh himself lacked the compassion [other passions in his DNA like pride and power overcame his hemlah] that would allow the Israelite slaves their freedom and the Myth tells us that Moses had to invoke the power of YHWH to ensure their release. The fight for Freedom that the Exodus Myth outlines emphasises that Compassion/Freedom is the paramount characteristic of God.

In the Covenant that followed this event Israel eventually came to occupy Canaan and then was invaded, exiled, invaded and exiled again and finally as a remnant returned to the period of the Second Temple. Now the task of the Covenant was to ensure that Freedom/Justice ruled in Israel in all matters. The priests and prophets knew, however, that Israel had a tendency – like Pharaoh – to find ways around following YHWH and so set in place rules such as Sabbath and Jubilee. The Jubilee was established as a time coming after 7 x 7 years so that in the fiftieth year all land that had been lost by its original owners was to be returned and all those who had lost their freedom and been forced into slavery by debt were also redeemed from their servitude. While in Exile in Babylon the priestly class of Israel established a framework that sought to secure Justice at least periodically. This whole principle was based on the fact that the land did not actually belong to Israel or to any person but to YHWH. This of course reflects the creation stories of Genesis which clearly place humanity in a position of stewardship of earth and all creation – not ownership or domination.  YHWH, as the prophets demonstrated, was a God of Justice, Compassion and Peace. Israel was called to be a Nation that in response to Creation lived Justice, Compassion and Peace.

I think it is without question that Pope Francis in nominating 2016 as a Jubilee Year was calling for Justice, Peace and Compassion to emerge in our created world. Look at what he said again: “agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish”. When we look back on the Jubilee Year on November 20th will we be able to discern that in any way Francis’s call has been heard, let alone heeded?

The men, women and children enslaved in Manus Island and Nauru are calling out for Jubilee. As Christians, and others who listen to Francis, we might think about how we should celebrate the conclusion of this Jubilee Year. Given the astoundingly obdurate announcement by Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton on this past weekend [October 30th] that people who sought to come to Australia on a ‘people smuggler’ arranged boat will never ever be permitted even to visit Australia we might consider our task to be to convince our political leaders to “Live Justly, Love tenderly and walk Humbly with our God”; with the God in us, in all God’s children.

As Moses said: “Let my people Go!” We say: “Bring them Here!”