Celebrating the Palestinian Jubilee

Clamoring bells ring from down in the valley from where I type this to you. Situated in the Greek Orthodox housing project, this home in the trees lies between the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour and the fortress of Har Homa.

Sunday morning evokes these melodic reverberations, and as the sun rises over Herodium, the start of the new week begins.
People wake and move about their home quietly as others continue on in slumber. For some, Sunday marks the first day of the week back to work. With the weekend falling on Friday and Saturday, they ready themselves for their jobs. Others, whose weekends are Saturday and Sunday, prepare for a church service or simply enjoy a day of rest in which they cherish their last day away from work for the week.

In a similar fashion, not only is it the beginning of the week for all of us, it is also the start of the new year. Just as bells ring for Sunday morning, the new year brings an announcement of the months that behold it.

For those living in Palestine, this year holds a special significance. Marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the UN Partition Plan, 50 years since the occupation of Palestine, 30 years since the beginning of the first intifada, and ten years since the beginning of political divisions among our Palestinian people; this year holds a paradox of both painful memory, which endures into our present reality, and hopeful anticipation for the future.

Here at Bethlehem Bible College, we hold these two realities, one in each hand. The pain of the past 100 years and the ensuing injustice and oppression have all the more led us to the point of hopeful anticipation as we begin 2017. Biblically speaking, the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus happens after forty-nine years. (Leviticus 25:8) The fiftieth year is the proclamation of liberty to all those in the land. (Leviticus 25:8-10) This chapter gives all kinds of stipulations that applied to land, property and relationships; and how they should be handled during this time. Without necessitating the precise breakdown of applying those specifications to our present-day context, there are guiding principles that can move us in a direction toward a life full of the Kingdom of God in this upcoming year.

Undergirding the idea of the Year of Jubilee is freedom throughout the land. (Lev. 25:10) After forty-nine years of living in occupied Palestine, freedom in the context in which we live currently can manifest itself in several ways. With the physical restrictions imposed, freedom of movement and opportunity are obvious ways in which we currently do not experience freedom in this land. Further, freedom from the bondage of victimization and crippling paradigms through which many living in this land view the ongoing situation also needs to be addressed. As the year progresses, we proclaim a holistic freedom that is found in Jesus that will overcome these areas of bondage.

The Year of Jubilee also addresses issues of the people being allowed to return to their land and property. (Leviticus 25:13) In understanding the depth of complication that is entrenched here in regard to whom the land belongs to, perhaps it is best to allow the over-arching principle to speak out on this one. In the end, the land is God’s. Far from a real-estate agent, God desires the hearts of men. In this Year of Jubilee, let us seek also the hearts of man that more may come to know and understand the vast love God has for humanity and creation. May we see this year as one that we move forward in proclaiming the Lord’s favor and mercy on mankind. (Luke 4:18-20)

In spite of whatever realities play out on the political spectrum, we, as followers of Jesus, cling to this mandate of proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, this Year of Jubilee, to those in our community both near and far. We pray for physical realities to change in this land, but regardless of our broken humanity and in the face of injustice we will move forward proclaiming the freedom which is in Christ Jesus. Believing in Jesus’ restorative power to reconcile all things back to Him, we align ourselves with Him and His kingdom.

Without whitewashing the pain and suffering which those in this land endure, the anniversaries of these painful dates push us to remember the “already” and the “not yet” Kingdom of God. Bethlehem Bible College intends to walk graciously and humbly in the direction toward freedom, justice and compassion for our community and beyond as we anticipate and actively engage this Year of Jubilee. May we hear the clamoring bells around us as if they are the constant reminder of the trumpets of freedom talked about in Leviticus twenty-five, the Year of Jubilee.