Over at The Catholic Weekly, we discuss one of the interesting failures of the Old Testament, which was renewed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ–and is expected by Christ to be a characteristic of his disciples:
The authors of the Old Testament, writing under inspiration, understood William Faulkner’s remark that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” They understood that acts done in the past echoed down through history and kept having consequences.
The archetypal example of this is, of course, the fall of man. The point of the story is not that God blames us for the sin of our first parents, but that the consequences of that sin keep being felt down through history just as a baby born with fetal alcohol syndrome is not to blame for his mother’s addiction, but is still affected by it.
In the Exodus, God gets Israel out of Egypt. That’s the easy part. The hard part is getting Egypt out of Israel. The Chosen People keep reverting to the mindset of their pagan masters, not only in worshipping false gods, but in trying to maintain the social norms of that ancient civilisation.
One of the things God therefore prescribes is the Year of Jubilee. The plan was for Israel to count off seven sevens of years and then hold a year in which, among other things, all debts were forgiven, slaves set free, and property that had been accumulated and concentrated in the hands of the rich was to be returned.
The idea was to make the Exodus an ongoing event in the life of Israel rather than a one-off a long time ago.
The question is, why? And the answer is not really very hard to see: the accumulation and concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few at the expense of the many is precisely what drove Israel into slavery.