Friday, February 04, 2011

Book: Sabbath and Jubilee (Richard H Lowery)

TITLE: Sabbath and Jubilee
AUTHOR: Richard H Lowery
PUBLISHED: St Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000.

Sabbath and Jubilee (Understanding Biblical Themes)This book is part of a series entitled: "Understanding biblical themes." In a nutshell, this book is about the biblical intent of the Jewish Sabbath and Jubilee that occurs all over the Old and New Testament. With conviction and exegetical skill, Lowery weaves in a three-tiered purpose behind the Sabbath and Jubilee. Firstly, the Sabbath and Jubilee is meant to sustain a healthy household or family unit. Secondly, the practice of the Sabbath and Jubilee has positive implications for both the environment as well as the economy. Thirdly, it inculcates in the humankind the need to share, and spread wealth globally.

A) What the Book is About
There are 9 chapters in all. Lowery begins with a criticism of the current economic, social and spiritual climate, which is far from the biblical ideal. He goes back into the ancient texts, cultures and contexts to pull out the essence of the Sabbath and Jubilee. Using very vivid analogies, he points out similarities between ancient slavery (to Egypt) and modern enslavement (to greed and consumerism). The purpose of this book is:

"By exploring several biblical sabbath, sabbath year, and jubilee texts with an eye toward social and economic issues, this book aims to bring the healing wisdom and critical challenge of ancient biblical sabbath tradition into conversation with our own stressed-out, overworked, spiritually starving world." (5)

B) Themes
Lowery's exegetical work begins almost immediately. Though he digs into both the biblical texts and contexts, he does not leave the reader helpless in ancient times. Lowery carefully bridges the ancient to the modern world with practical implications and applications. He links ancient failures of royalty with modern failure of charity. Both leads to social injustice.

Social justice is a major theme. The purpose of the Sabbath and Jubilee year is to ensure that all creation are not to be enslaved by any man-made device. He claims that Sabbath and Jubilee practice is closely connected with how Israel is freed from Egyptian slavery in the first place. In other words, by practicing social justice in the world, we are putting gratitude into action.

Freedom is huge in this book. Wealth should be seen as a way to empower and to free one from being caught up in the mundane activities of the world. By stopping the wealthy from continuous accumulation of wealth, there is a limit to how much one can pile up, for the benefit of the have-nots. The vulnerable includes the foreigners, the poor, slaves, and others who are hit by misfortune. In fact, the Israelites have a moral responsibility to care for the vulnerable through global solidarity. The Babylonian exile is an example of punishment when Israel who has been given so much, chose instead not to help others. In other words, the Sabbath and Jubilee theme of freedom is connected with the way the Israelites have been rescued.

"All these passages connect economic justice and support for the vulnerable with Israel's sacred narrative of liberation. Greedy profiteers play the role of the Pharaoh and other finally vanquished enemies of Israel. Those who help the vulnerable and resist injustice stand with Yahweh, the redeemer and liberator of slaves." (56)

Another theme is creation, where the Sabbath and Jubilee are created devices to help mankind recognize the 'utopian reality' that can be purposed in our current living. Lowery's treatment of the days of creation is illuminating. For instance, he puts the following side by side:

  • Day 1 (light/day) side by side with Day 4 (heavenly lights / seasons)
  • Day 2 (sky to separate / waters below) with Day 5 (sky animals / water animals)
  • Day 3 (dry land) / Day 6 (land animals/humans)
Day 7 brings everything together. He concludes by saying that it is God's sovereignty over all that brings everything together. 

An interesting theme is how Sabbath and Jubilee leads to hospitality. He then expertly contends that social justice must start from the home. How one practices hospitality inside, will be reflected in our actions in the outside world. Finally, he talks about why Jesus challenges the Pharisees with regards to doing good works on the Sabbath.

C) My Comments
I find myself gripped by this book. There are so many good pointers and scholarly exegesis that I cannot put the book down. I like the way Lowery manages to harmonize the ancient practice of Sabbath and Jubilee with modern applications. Themes like caring for one another, the world environment, human and natural resources, hospitality and social justice, eradicating poverty and social vulnerabilities are so needed today. Perhaps, if every person were to take a Sabbath each week simply to focus on re-distribution, on sharing, on giving to those less fortunate than us, this world will become a better place.

Having said that, I have some reservations about this book. By tying in social justice and hospitality so quickly, there is a lesser focus on what 'rest' actually mean for the soul. Granted freedom and liberation is so much needed. However, what about spiritual nourishment and actual rest? Another reservation I have is about the author's apparent focus on capitalism. The author's critique appears to be more focused on the Western model of Capitalism and how they have plundered the rest of the developing world. Little is mentioned about socialism in East Europe, or liberation theology in South and Latin America. 

Perhaps, Lowery feels that Capitalism is relatively more guilty. I guess that cannot be prevented. After all, Lowery writes from a North American background. Still, this book remains brilliant for its exegesis and practical applications.


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