Here are excerpts from the address Pope Francis gave at the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square on Wednesday, February 10, 2016—Ash Wednesday—marking the beginning of Lent:
Today we stop to consider the ancient institution of the “jubilee”, an ancient custom attested to in Sacred Scripture. In particular we find it in the Book of Leviticus, which presents it as a culminating moment in the religious and social life of the people of Israel.
Every 50 years, “on the day of atonement” (Lev 25:9), when the Lord’s mercy is invoked upon the whole people, the sound of the trumpet announced the great event of liberation. In fact we read in Leviticus: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family [...]. In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property” (25:10, 13).
In accordance with these dispositions, if someone had been compelled to sell his land or his house, in the jubilee year he could regain possession of it; and if someone had contracted debts and, being unable to pay them, was compelled to place himself in the service of the creditor, he could return debt free to his family and regain all of his property.
It was a type of “general pardon”, by which everyone was allowed to return to their original situation, with the cancellation of all debts, the restitution of land, and the opportunity for freedom to be enjoyed once again by the members of the People of God: a “holy” people, where regulations such as that of the jubilee year served to combat poverty and inequality, guaranteeing a dignified life to all and an equitable distribution of land on which to live and from which to draw sustenance. The central idea is that the land originally belonged to God and has been entrusted to man (cf. Gen 1:28-29), and therefore no one may claim exclusive possession, thereby creating situations of inequality. (…)
With the jubilee, those who had become poor returned to having the necessities of life, and those who had become rich restored to the poor what they had taken from them. The goal was a society based on equality and solidarity, where freedom, land and money became once again a resource for all and not just for a few, as happens now, if I’m not mistaken.... The figures are approximate, but more or less 80 per cent of human wealth is in the hands of less than 20 percent of the population. (…)
The goal, as I said, is a society based on equality and solidarity, where freedom, land and money become a resource for all and not just for the few... I We might say that the biblical jubilee was a “jubilee of mercy”, because it was lived in sincerely seeking the good of the brother in need. (...)
Precisely in this consideration, Sacred Scripture persistently exhorts a generous response to requests for loans, without making petty calculations and without demanding impossible interest rates: “And if your brother becomes poor, and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall maintain him; as a stranger and a sojourner he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or increase, but fear your God; that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit” (Lev 25:35-37).
This lesson is always timely. How many families there are on the street, victims of profiteering! Please let us pray, that in this Jubilee Year the Lord remove from every heart this desire to have more, to exploit. That we may return to being generous, great. How many situations of exploitation we are forced to see and how much suffering and anguish they cause families! And so often, in desperation, how many men end up committing suicide because they cannot manage and do not have hope, they do not have a helping hand extended to them; only the hand that comes to make them pay interest. It is a grave sin, usury is a sin that cries out in the presence of God. The Lord instead promised his blessing to those who open their hand to give generously (cf. Deut 15:10). He will give to you twofold, perhaps not in money but in other things, but the Lord will always give you double.