The full quotation behind the famous excerpt on the Liberty Bell goes like this:
And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. (Lev 25:10)
In the jubilee year, all debts were to be cancelled, alienated property returned to its original owners, and slaves freed. As Ched Myers says, “God’s people are instructed to dismantle, on a regular basis, the fundamental patterns and structures of stratified wealth and power, so that there is ‘enough for everyone.’”
That’s not the understanding of liberty that most people are celebrating today. It’s not anything our rulers—nor the Domination System in which they move, and live, and have their being—are willing to allow. So instead of jubilee, year by year we get a increasingly shallow, idolatrous celebration of nationalism and militarism on Independence Day, lest we hear and see and turn.
I think the prophets—of whom Frederick Buechner said none ever received a second invitation to dinner, let alone a BBQ and fireworks display—have much to say to us on this day. Here are three excerpts that especially resonate for me. Reading them in context makes even more vivid their applicability to our present state.
This one is for “malefactors of great wealth” who no longer understand the meaning of a commonwealth:
Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land. The LORD of hosts has sworn in my hearing: “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. (Isaiah 5:8-9)
This one is for militarists, who no more than Isaiah’s audience understand “blowback:”
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter”; therefore thus says the Lord GOD… I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” (Isaiah 28:15-20)
Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it. As often as it passes through it will take you; for morning by morning it will pass through, by day and by night; and it will be sheer terror to understand the message. For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.
And this is for all those among our rulers—the politicians, the pundits, the plutocrats, and the whole apanage of the Powers—who take this day in vain, prating of liberty while forging ever stronger chains for us:
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)