Culture At Large

Does the housing market need a Year of Jubilee?

Rod Hugen

Down the street, a foreclosure sign sits in front of a neighbor’s house. We’re not sure what to do or say. There is so much shame as he awaits the results of the legal processes. He talks bravely of doing things differently next time, but the truth is that he will leave us. If only we lived in a Year of Jubilee.

The Year of Jubilee is a fascinating bit of Levitical law requiring Israelites to return property to former owners every 50th year. Between wandering the desert and fighting to take possession of the land, we don’t have much evidence they actually celebrated such a year, but it was certainly the way they were called to deal with property rights. Leviticus 25:13 reads: "'In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property.” Former owners who had sold themselves into servitude were invited to reoccupy their land and take back their inheritance.

Underlying the complex Jubilee year was the understanding that no person really owned the land. Land was a gift from God given to his people. People were occupants, tenants, stewards and recipients of grace, not owners. Yet, at the same time, their right to possess the land was extended not just to themselves, but to their children’s children, as well.

In North American culture we value home ownership and feel secure when we have a bit of land to call our own. This security is not necessarily found in relationship with God, but in thinking that if we own land, no one can take it away from us. We will, at the very least, have a place to live when we grow old. We can also pass the land on to our heirs to provide for their care after we are gone.

Land ownership is part of the American dream. Economically disadvantaged people are left to rent or squat. In our push toward equal opportunity for all, we smoothed the way for even those unable to afford homes to be able to purchase one. Then, when the economy crumbled, fueled in part by the ease with which people could acquire a home, many found themselves burdened by payments and the massive foreclosure and repossession binge was on. Homes reverted to their real owners – the banks and financial institutions. The culture of Jubilee seems so honoring and redemptive; the culture of foreclosure seems so brutal, greedy and sad.

For my neighbor, there is no Year of Jubilee. There is no day to look forward to when he will again live in the home he occupied these past years. His name is ruined. The dream has gone bust. One wonders how we might practice the generosity of Jubilee toward him? How might we communally exercise trust in God’s provision when we would rather trust ourselves? What does neighborliness look like when someone is losing their home to the bank?

It is easy to point fingers and assign blame. There is plenty of fault to go around. How can we be a good neighbor in the Year of Foreclosure?

Image courtesy of iStockphoto.

Topics: Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Economics, Theology & The Church, The Bible, Theology, News & Politics, Social Trends, Justice, North America, Home & Family