Jesus’ Debt Warnings, Pt. 5: His Public Ministry Began With Debt Forgiveness

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Posted: Feb 26, 2019 11:52 AM
Jesus’ Debt Warnings, Pt. 5: His Public Ministry Began With Debt Forgiveness

Jesus' first public pronouncements about his life and ministry is explicitly tied to the prophetic promise of the coming Jubilee:

 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written,

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden,

19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."

20 And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him.

21 And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

(Lk. 4:15-21 NAS) 

Let's not let that announcement pass by without proper emphasis. Jesus could have started with many things, but he started with Isaiah's announcement that Israel would be restored from exile and would honor the debt forgiveness laws of the Torah.

This would not have surprised those seated before him, that a prospective Messiah would think of himself as fulfilling that role. Nichola's Perrin's book, Jesus the Temple, makes clear that messianic speculation was closely connected with both end of exile themes and recovery of Torah obedience on the matter of debt remittance. The people knew that the law was being violated. They knew that the exile had been due at least partially to disobedience to those rules. They knew that there was a period of 490 years associated both with the coming of Messiah and with the end of exile and with the violation of Shemitah rules, and they calculated that this 490 year period was about to come due.

Israel, at least non-elite Israel, was longing for a Messiah who would see that debts were properly forgiven and thus end Israel's exilic status as a vassal of Rome. Jesus knew what he was quoting, what its context was and what it would have meant to those sitting there.  To quote that passage without heavily hedging it, would be to invite misunderstanding, unless Jesus did indeed mean to make debt remission an important part of his teachings.

If there was any doubt about that, that doubt should be cleared up as we see Jesus bring up the debt issue in his first major large public address, the famous Sermon on the Mount. We'll look at that next time.