Beryl Jantzi is director of Stewardship Education for Everence, an agency of Mennonite Church USA.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom/aphesis for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
As Jesus launched his ministry, in Luke 4 there is a call to aphesis, or freedom. This is a direct reference to the principle of Jubilee (year of the Lord’s favor) as described in Leviticus 25. Jubilee called for cancellation of debts and release of slaves and indentured servants.
We read an example of this in 2 Kings 4:4-7, where the widow’s children were about to be turned over to creditors to pay off her debt until Elisha shows up to remedy the situation.
“Elisha said, ‘Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’ She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’
But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.'”
How might the church serve as Elisha today? Some are doing just that. Below are three ways your church might extend the ministry of aphesis into your own community, in the spirit of Luke 4:18-19.
- The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices, a recent report released by Lake Institute, included a strong call for the church to teach its members more intentionally about all manner of financial practices. If we are asking members to give to the church but we fail to ask members how they are doing financially, we are failing our people – especially those who are struggling financially.
- Many churches are becoming involved with a new initiative titled RIP Medical Debt, which buys debt portfolios for pennies on the dollar. But instead of collecting the debt, RIP forgives it. To be eligible for repayment from RIP, the debtor must be earning less than twice the federal poverty level (about $25,000 a year for an individual), have debts of 5% or more of their annual income and have more debt than assets. Because hospitals are eager to get those hard-to-collect debts off their books, they sell them cheaply. That’s how churches have been able to abolish millions of dollars in debt since the start of 2018. For more information, go here.
- Several years ago, a group of young adults from Pittsburgh Mennonite Church developed SLED (Student Loan Experiment), to lower education debt. SLED’s first cycle lasted 12 months, with six people receiving two disbursements each. Over the course of the year, each receiving member was able to pay down an additional $2,000 of their outstanding debt, totaling $12,000 as a group. These extra payments saved the group a collective $15,000 in future interest payments, shortening their collective loans by eliminating 96 monthly payments. In addition, they were committed to building community and developing relationships with each other that went beyond helping each other with debt. Once a month, they shared a meal and talked about financial topics that interested them. (Everence® Everyday Stewardship, Summer 2014 issue)
Ministry and money can go hand in hand. Many people in our churches are struggling with the burden brought on by debt and lack of adequate income.
By breaking the taboo of money talk, we can begin to provide moral support and maybe even come up with creative ways to bring financial freedom where there had been anxiety and fear.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.