Jubilee on Wall Street: Taking the Bull by the Horns

Illustration of someone blowing a shofar as money cascades from the sky.

“Bills fell from the sky … and coins covered the streets,” Claiborne writes. “Sister Margaret blew the shofar.” Credit: Olivia Wise (oliviawisestudio.com).

Sometimes folks say, “But the Jews never really practiced the Jubilee.” We Christians have never really practiced the Sermon on the Mount very well, either. Nonetheless, God’s intention is clear, despite our failure to obey. Jubilee was still God’s dream, and it’s our job to keep the dream alive.

We are living in a time of unprecedented economic disparity between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots.

The stats are mind-boggling.

Just consider this:

The richest 20 percent of the world owns 80 percent of the world’s wealth.

The poorest 20 percent of the world owns 1.4 percent of the world’s wealth.

The richest 1 percent of the world owns 40 percent of the world’s wealth.

The average CEO in the United States is making 380 times the pay of the average worker. That means the average worker needs to work an entire month to make what the CEO makes in one hour.

A Forbes study recently showed that the world’s richest eighty-five people now own the same wealth as 3.5 billion people.

Eighty-five people own as much wealth as half the world.

A world in which a handful of people live however they wish while masses of others live in poverty is a fragile world. And a world where three people own the same resources as the combined economy of forty-eight countries is a dangerous world.

That’s the bad news. But here’s the good news: God did not mess up and make too many people or too little stuff. There is enough—so long as we share it. As Gandhi said, there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.

When you look at our world, it doesn’t take long to see how sensible God’s idea of Jubilee is. It’s a divine interruption to the patterns of inequality—redistributing property, forgiving debt, setting slaves free, and letting the earth rest. It is God’s emancipation proclamation.

But what would Jubilee look like today?

Planning for Jubilee

Ten years ago, my radical faith community, The Simple Way, decided to do a little experiment: a Jubilee celebration on Wall Street. And folks from all over the country joined us.

We had $10,000 that had formerly been invested in stocks and was now meant to be given away to those in need. We thought, “Where better to give it away than on Wall Street?” It was a year after September 11 and nine years before the Occupy movement. We agreed to throw the party on Wall Street, deliberately bringing the poor and rich face-to-face to expose the economic patterns of the world we live in.

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