A Year of Forgiveness is Necessary for Justice

By Rachel Schmidt
January 04, 2016

On Tuesday, Dec. 8 Pope Francis established a Jubilee Year of Mercy, which is considered a “year acceptable to the Lord” (Is 61:2). Its origin comes from the Bible in Leviticus 25. The scripture states that every fiftieth year was considered a sacred time to return property, forgive debts, and free people who were considered “slaves.” It was a year to reset, refresh, and allow those subjugated by societal actions to reconnect with society in a more holistic way. The Christian version of the Jubilee turned into a season of pilgrimage to sacred places around the 14th century and had less focus on societal forgiveness. Therefore, Francis’s emphasis of this Jubilee year as a return to mercy is radical and will be educational for how forgiveness is necessary for a just society.

It is significant that Francis departed from tradition for this year’s Jubilee. First, Jubilees are supposed to be every 25-50 years and the most recent one was in 2000. The pope knows it has only been 15 years, but he finds the message of mercy to be too important for our age to wait another 10-35 years. He also broke from the tradition of the pilgrimage-type Jubilee and goes to the spirit of the original Jubilee described in Leviticus with this Year of Mercy. The word “radical” comes from the Latin radix, which means “forming the root.” Francis is radical not only in revisiting the original purpose of the Jubilee; he is also forming strong roots in the Church and the world for cultivating social justice.

Pope Francis said, “a little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.” How can forgiveness create a warmer, more loving world? Imagine if we held to the original Jubilee ideals. In current times, perhaps there would be no more student debt, we could provide hardworking people around the country with a living wage and healthcare, and the ills that a capitalistic society inevitably produces would be righted through stronger controls on our economy led by a political system concerned for the common good. Society would be held accountable for the ways it causes harm and creates brokenness. The Jubilee would uplift the people society puts in dehumanizing situations and improve their quality of life, or liberate them from systems of oppression. Imagine the cycle of poverty being swiftly uprooted and interrupted. If we can be inspired only slightly by Pope Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, we will certainly create more justice in the world.

There is so much fear in many people who unjustly criticize this kind of societal forgiveness for those who struggle in oppressive conditions. For example, this seems to be a constant point in the narrative around our social safety net and programs designed to help lift people out of poverty and support those struggling in our economy. Should we judge those who receive government assistance? How many chances should we give repeat offenders of the law? The answer is no, we shouldn’t judge, and we should give people as much support as they need because we are all connected. We are one body and all of us are sick when one of us is hurting.

Peter Maurin, a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, wrote Why Not Be a Beggar? (below), which illustrates how those pushed to the margins are our shared redemption.In the end, we are all susceptible to marginalization and all have pain and darkness within us. We must have consciousness of this common fragility and realize “the other” is not other at all; this person is another self and their struggles can illuminate the necessity of our own pain. In a capitalistic society where “being the best” is often considered the point of existence, the person who is most economically vulnerable has a lot to teach us about our shared humanity.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy let us remember the necessity of forgiveness of ourselves and others for the benefit of creating the common good. We can “form the root” of society by interrupting cycles of poverty and giving people a hand up with our legislative policies. We can structure society in ways that don’t ostracize folks for some of the difficult choices they have made. We must continually remember that we and others are welcome to the table no matter how many times we’ve been pushed away. Let us refresh, reset, and restructure into a community of forgiveness that knows how much we need one another.

Why Not Be A Beggar?
1. People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’ sake.

2. Modern society
calls the beggar
bum and panhandler
and gives him the bum’s rush.

3. The Greeks used to say
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.

4. We read in the Gospel:
“As long as you did it
to one of the least
of My brothers
you did it to Me.”

5. While modern society
calls the beggars
bums and panhandlers,
they are in fact
the Ambassadors of God.

6. To be God’s Ambassador
is something
to be proud of.

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