Appendix 1

Jesus’ Jubilee communities, money, and taxes[1]

Comment about Jesus’ Jubilee communities, money, and taxes invokes a discourse that is framed by wide-ranging considerations. This appendix concentrates as much on key aspects of the framing as it does on the specific matter with which it is titled.

N.T. Wright’s reconstruction of Jesus and his inclusive mission in his historical context has a pivotal thesis concerning Jesus’ view of Rome’s oppression of Palestine. Wright’s thesis is that Jesus saw Roman oppression to be the continuing judgement of God upon Israel’s unfaithfulness. The shape of Israel’s unfaithfulness was evidenced in her failure to be a light of proper humanity, a demonstrator / demonstration of justice and Shalom, to the Gentiles. Wright’s take concerning Jesus’ view of Rome’s oppression of Palestine entails a number of factors. Some of the factors are noted here inasmuch as they indicate aspects of the probable frame of Jesus’ intention to setup local, Jubilee-evidencing, communities as a renewed and fulfilled people of God.

Light of the world
Israel’s identity, as “the people of God”, was to be a pilgrim people, bringing God’s light to the world by example. The Shalom of Israel entailed the blessing of the whole earth.[2] In both her Herodian idolatrous accommodation of Israel’s governance to pagan power, and the Pharisaic pressure to prove perfect purity, Israel was failing in her mission.

Israel and Rome; Pharisees and Herodians
Though diametrically opposed, in their interests, aims, and takes on the kingdom of God, the Pharisees and Herodians both were exclusivist, albeit in somewhat different ways. The masses of poor got a raw deal from both parties.

Having invited Roman occupation to protect their power, the quisling Herodians used Roman power to keep themselves in the state of power and wealth to which they had grown accustomed at the expense of the many poor. For the Herodians, the kingdom of God was not a future thing; it had arrived in their administration albeit that they used pagan power to prop up their rule, since the people of the land had no truck with them.

On the other hand, the Pharisees saw Rome as the enemy and the kingdom of God as future – though, in the near future, the kingdom would come and put an end to Roman power. Hence, the Pharisees were seemingly in opposition to the Herodians.

Yet, the Pharisees burdened the poor too. The Pharisees – with their detailed speculative accounting and prescribing for every possibility of particular practice thought to be covered by the rubrics of Torah – had burdened the poor in impossible ways and placed the matter of the right heart in external practice, rather than placing the matter of the right heart in being right in one’s heart and leaving right practice to follow.

Pharisaic prescriptions for detailed practice became exclusivist and impossible for the many poor. The poor did not have the material means to comply with the Pharisees’ ridiculously detailed tithing stipulations and other commentaries on aspects of the practice of Torah.

With respect to Torah-prescribed tithing and the capacity of the poor to pay a tithe, ten percent of almost nothing is almost everything a man has to sustain life. It is little wonder that Jesus’ economics targeted pride in tithing when the poor were neglected and Jubilee justice was ignored.

What is excluded and what is included?

Be it in the Herodians or in the Pharisees, the Jews – as a nation, particularly in Israel’s elite and those that who steered the nation, or sought to do so – had come to take her identity as “the people of God” to be an exclusive thing. They had come to take Israelite identity as “the people of God” to be a possession that gave the Jews superiority over all other peoples.

Arguably, the Herodians claimed their alliance with Rome was a pragmatic move to protect Jewish identity and the temple, though, of course, that the alliance served their personal wealth and power very well. The Pharisees were more clearly exclusivist – they generally sought, through prayer, practice, and resistance, to rid Israel of Roman power; indeed, they were looking for God to conquer Rome. Some Pharisees – such as Saul of Tarsus – were so hardnosed that they were prepared to engage in political assassination and murderous social control to hasten God’s final conquest of Israel’s enemies and the culmination of the age.

Hence, in Jesus’ time, Israel had lost sight of her missional identity to be the people of God’s purpose in bringing inclusive liberating light to the Gentiles, to the world, to all creation, to image God in the world.[3] It is in this context that Jesus sets out to re-create the people of God around himself and set up renewed communities of faithfulness, faithfulness to the inclusive, missional purposes of God.

Certainly, God’s universal light implies a critique of paganism, for it is the specific light of Yahweh, creator of heaven and earth, that is the light of salvation. Certainly, the shining of that particular light throws into clear shadow the inhumanity, the injustice, of idolatry, of self-interested paganism and apostate Israel alike. But the light of the creator and the capacity of divine light to bring healing, rightness, and peace – as all creation comes to recognise who Yahweh is and to live in God’s ways – is universal in scope and inclusive in loving intent. Inhumanity and in justice are excluded, but all people, all creation, are included.

Light of the world and the judgement of God
In terms of the biblical narrative, Israel had failed to image, to show forth, God; Israel had failed to demonstrate God’s (supremely good) character[4] to the world. Like Adam and Eve, Israel had failed to be the proper children of God[5] and continue God’s wise and caring administration of creation – Israel had failed to participate in the liberative economy of God.

In Jesus’ context the continuing judgement of God befell Israel, as a whole, in ways that were of a piece with the overall biblical pattern of God’s judgement – viz. indirectly by God “giving up” apostate Israel into the hands of her enemies, rather than directly along the lines of say brimstone from heaven. Such giving up was not to be viewed as God’s reneging on God’s covenant with the people of God, but as God’s appropriate chastening and pedagogical practice, since the judgement took the shape of a reluctant[6] divine allowing of the consequences of Israel’s own covenant-breaking.

Exile, judgement and the good news of the Day of the Lord’s favour

This being so, Wright sees Jesus of Nazareth’s take on the continuing judgement of God in the following way.

Israel continued to be unfaithful in failing to be a light to the Gentiles – the consequence of this was the continuance of Israel’s exile. The Jews had returned to Judah, but they were still in exile, from God, in their own land. They remained alienated from it and from its God-given capacity to sustain the good life.

For all practical purposes, the Gentile oppressors still ruled Israel, indeed all the earth. Cruel, pagans, in the power and person of Caesar, still ruled the Jews oppressively, extractively, in contrast to the kind, just, beneficent rulership of Yahweh, creator of all, provider for all, the bringer and sustainer of Shalom.

Hence, the Isannic good news, of a new and final exodus from oppression into the Shalom of God’s universal blessing – including sustainable creational and economic fruitfulness – had not yet been completed.

Although the Jews had returned to their land, the earth was still oppressed by the ungodly. Hence, God’s people remained alienated, in exile from God’s Shalom – indeed the whole world remained alienated from that blessing. Israel’s failure was blocking the completion of the final exodus (from exile) and the entering of the people of God into God’s blessing and, through them, the entering of the whole world, the whole of creation, into fruitful Shalom.

Jesus determined to release that universal blessing by sustaining and fully expending, in himself, the whole force of the divinely-allowed curse upon the earth[7] that remained as a result of Israel’s failure to be properly the people of God.

For Jesus, Israel’s somewhat inchoate messianic hope came to take the shape of the Day of the Lord, indeed the eschatological Day of Yahweh’s in-person appearing. As such, the “day of the Lord” brought final judgement on sin (the falling short) – including: idolatry, apostasy, injustice – as well as bringing: release, Shalom, and fruitfulness to the earth and the people who dwell on it. Jesus saw himself as bringing that Shalom; hence his announcement in the synagogue at Nazareth of the arrival, in himself, of the eschatological, Jubilee-shaped, day of the Lord’s favour”.[8]

Jesus Jubilee and the counter-economic
I suggest that, in this context, Jesus’ declaration of release and his calling of people to faithfulness in response to his good news, necessarily entailed a call of the people to concrete, liberative, communitarian, Jubilee practice – practice that shunned the money economy as inextricably entangled in debt and idolatry. In the agrarian culture and economy of Jesus’ context, the provisions and practice of Jubilee provided a communitarian counter-economic alternative to the extractive economics and power of the Roman empire.

For example, a Jubilee-inspired practice shunning the money economy of Jesus’ context is suggest by a careful contextual reading of Jesus’ reply – recorded in the synoptic Gospels – to the unholy alliance of Herodians and Pharisees who aimed to trap him concerning payment of the Caesar tax. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.[9] If Jesus’ Jubilee practice shunned the money economy, it follows that a “Get-rid-of-Caesar’s-currency!”, undercurrent in Jesus’ reply to the Herodians and Pharisees, [10] would have had real counter-economic force.[11]

Wright and Yoder on Jesus and Jubilee

Wright provides some clues about Jesus and Jubilee. Certainly, Wright contends that John Howard Yoder might be too sweeping in thinking that in Jesus’ Nazareth declaration[12] he proclaimed the year of Jubilee,[13] that Jesus was calling all Israel to undertake the year of Jubilee.[14] Nevertheless, Wright suggests that Jesus’ mission evidences that he intended that his general followers should form Jubilee-shaped cell groups, such as the Essenes and John the Baptist’s disciples seem to have done. Further, Wright says that Jesus intended his followers to do so within the period of his public ministry. Wright conjectures that Jesus intended such groups to “…live by the Jubilee principle among themselves”.[15]

Indeed, living by the Jubilee principle among themselves would have been consistent with a counter-economic reliance upon barter exchange and a shunning of the money economy with all the entanglement in debt it entailed.[16] The formation of cell groups of a Jubilee-doing community is consistent with Jesus’ identification with the poor,[17] his gleaning practice,[18] his celebratory and inclusive table fellowship,[19] the life-practice prayer he taught his community to pray and do, with its emphasis upon forgiving (aphiemi) debts (opheilemata) and forgiving, falling-short (harmatia),[20] his view of, and his building of, the “called-out” – i.e. his ekklesia, as the salt and light agency[21] of the new heavenly empire on earth of peace, righteousness, and justice.[22]

If Jesus’ good news of the coming kingdom of God had entailed a call to live together in community debt-free, then we may see real concrete force in his declaration concerning his own, rival, overlordship whereby he takes responsibility for all debt,[23] as Yahweh undertakes to do in the providence of Jubilee.[24] Jesus said,

All things have been handed over to me by my Father… Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.[25]

Nor is the likelihood of Jesus’ intention – that his followers should form Jubilee-living cells – inconsistent with him making a call to all Israel to practice Jubilee. Surely, the likelihood of such an intention for his followers presupposes a concomitant expectation for the nation. Surely, it would have been Jesus’ and his followers’ expectation that they would demonstrate, by their actual Jubilee practice, not only actual relief, release, and social reconstruction, but also a critique of, and a challenge to, the system as a whole. Contra Wright, Jesus’ grassroots action and his disciples organising activity to bring about Jubilee-living communities implies a call to the nation as a whole – the very narrative of Jubilee, in which such action was embedded and made meaningful, was a call to an all-Israel practice, of all-encompassing liberation. Why else would Jesus have taken himself on his suicidal mission to Jerusalem if it what not to bring liberation to the heart of the nation? How else would the members of Jesus’ cell groups have seen themselves and how else would Jesus’ call to live in such community have been expressed? If Jesus did enact such counter-economic practice, it was not surprising that Jesus was asked – by the rival power groups, Herodian’s and Pharisees – about his view of money and the power it has over us, as evidenced in the poll tax to be paid to Caesar.

In Jesus’ context, to default on, or even just resist, the Caesar and temple taxes[26] was an aggressive acknowledgment of the Gift. The Gift is not an alienable thing exchanged; it is even less a tribute paid.

Caesar saw himself as lord of all the earth. Whatever the underling Jewish powers thought of themselves, and whatever the traditional sensibilities of the Jews might have been about their god being lord of all creation and owner of the land, Caesar saw himself the as undisputed owner of the land, as the god-king Pharaohs had seen themselves. So if Jesus so much as hinted that Jubilee with its land renewal and reform had arrived in him and his mission, it is little wonder that Rome willingly participated in his execution – but Jesus did much more than hint!


1This appendix is a reworking of some text that first appeared in my, “ Show Me the Money! Jesus and the temple,” Part 2, Stimulus, the New Zealand journal of Christian thought and practice, Vol, 17, No.4 38-51.

2Cf. Isaiah 42:6,7; 49:6. See also Luke 2:28-32

3Cf. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God;
Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, pp. 182–6, 326–36.

4Cf. Leviticus 19

5Deuteronomy 32:1-47 is paradigmatic in terms of the shape of Israel’s failure to adequately reflect God’s character in action. Cf. Malachi 1:6-7ff.

6Cf. For example, Exodus 32:7-14.

7The paradigmatic instance of this curse is recorded in Genesis 3:17-19.

8Cf. Luke 4:16-19ff., see also Isaiah 61:1-2a.

9It is widely noted that, in replying thus, Jesus is invoking Psalm 24 which says that all the earth and all in it belongs to Yahweh and so nothing belongs to Caesar of right; what Caesar enjoys for the moment at the expense of others will not endure always. See the extended discussion of both the Caesar tax and the Jewish/Herodian temple tax in, “Show Me the Money! Jesus and the temple,” Parts 1 & 2, Stimulus, the New Zealand journal of Christian thought and practice, Vol, 17, No.4 37-548, and Vol, 17, No.4 38-51.

10N. T. Wright cites 1 Maccabees 2:66-68 – although Mattathias’ “Pay back to the Gentiles …” was not a reference to money, Wright and finds an echo of its revolutionary sentiment in Jesus’ reply to his interrogators. In light of the idolatry of the Caesar coin with which the tax was to be paid, Wright is

… sure that some of Jesus’ hearers would have picked up that revolutionary hint. Because he was standing there looking at a coin, his surface meaning was, of course, that the tax had to be paid; but underneath was the strong hint that Caesar’s regime was a blasphemous nonsense and that one day God would overthrow it.

N.T. Wright “God and Caesar Then and Now”. [30 September 2008] Cf. Wright (1996), 503-505, 507

11In Jesus’ context, both the Caesar tax and the Jewish/Herodian served the oppressive, despoiling, extractive, partnership between the Jewish powers that be and the power of Rome. Again, see the discussion in, “Show Me the Money!,” Parts 1 & 2, Stimulus, Vol, 17, No.4 37-548, and Vol, 17, No.4 38-51.

12Cf. Luke 4:16-30 wherein Jesus quotes Is 61:1-2a and applies that text to himself.

13Cf. Wright (1996), 294-97.

14Yoder, building on the work of André Trocmé, suggests that Jesus actually announced a Jubilee year in A.D. 26. Cf. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd ed, Eerdmans, 1994, 30-33. 60-75.

15Wright (1996), 295. (emphasis original)

16For an account of Jesus’ renewal of community, as presented by Mark’s Gospel, as it is framed by the political, economic, and social realities of 1st century Palestine, see Richard Horsley, Hearing The Whole Story: The Politics Of Plot In Mk’s Gospel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

17Cf. Matthew 11:5ff, Matthew 19:21ff, Luke 3:11, Luke 6:20, Luke 14:13ff,

18Mark 2:23ff.

19Cf. Matthew 11:19ff.

20Matthew 6:12ff and Luke 11:3-4; also Matthew 18:23-35, Luke 7:40-49.

21Cf. Matthew 5:13-14

22Cf. Matthew 16:18-19. Given the probability of Wright’s suggestion that Jesus intended, within the period of his public ministry, that his general followers should form counter-cultural life-support cell groups, we need not look to the post-resurrection early church as the “creative” source of Jesus’ talk about his “church”. Nor need we see the post-resurrection church and as the “creative” source for a “church practice” passage such as Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus, as the bringer of Jubilee community, the fulfilment of Isaiah 61:1-2a, could have easily thought of himself within his earthly ministry as “present” to, during his absence from, such communities who, before his death, sought to live out his radical reframing of Torah around himself (cf. Matthew 5:17-20-48).

23See further the section of the main paper titled “The deconstruction of debt” and especially Appendix 2. to the main paper.

24For a detailed study of reciprocity and redistribution with respect to an examination of the economic institutions prevalent in the Gospels see Edd S. Noell, “A ‘Marketless World’? An Examination of Wealth and Exchange in the Gospels and First-Century Palestine” in the on-line Journal of Markets & Morality [1 October 2008]. The study does not mention Jubilee, but it does provide much information on the context in which the concrete application of Jubilee-like reciprocity and redistribution might have commended itself as a solution to poverty, in 1st century Palestine.

25Matthew 11:27-30.

26Cf. Luke 23:1-4. Jesus’ attitude to the temple tax also signals a less than fully compliant view of the matter. At first reading Jesus’ attitude to the temple tax seems to have been slightly different to his attitude to the Roman poll tax tribute to Caesar. The temple tax of half a shekel is prescribed in the Torah (cf. Exodus 30:13). Arguably, Jesus and his followers paid the temple tax since it could be thought of as a Jewish, rather than Roman, levy. Yet, as a tax imposed from the temple, it was a Sadducean/Herodian affair and had itself become part of both the compromise and idolatry of the temple. Further, the temple, enjoying Roman privilege, was an indirect instrument of Roman social control. That perhaps explains Jesus’ apparent reluctance to pay the temple tax.

Indeed, Jesus asks why God would want to continue to impose a temple tax on God’s already suffering people. “‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’ When Peter said, ‘From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free.’” (Matthew 17:25-26).

Doubtless, Jesus’ didactic questioning is framed with respect to the dire economic conditions the general populous was already suffering under as a result of Roman taxation. Jesus paid the temple tax reluctantly. But note that it was paid out of God’s extra, abundant Jubilee provision, which the ease of fishing indicated. Jesus paid the temple tax, but not before making a telling point about Jewish freedom.

That point itself might well be taken as further evidence for some form of tax resistance being practised by Jesus and his followers. At the very least it evidences that Jesus was not sanguine about oppressive taxation.