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Labour Day

... He [Jesus, AD 30, in the Synagogue in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, now north Israel] stood up to read ...... “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim -

·         Good news to the poor ......

·         Liberty to the captives ......

·         Recovering of sight to the blind ......

·         Setting at liberty of those who are oppressed ......

·         The year of the LORD’s favour.”

And he closed the book.                      Luke 4: 16-19


The first day of May has come to be known, world-wide, as the day of hoped-for, real, true good for workers – release and blessing for those who labour under contract to others and long for better things.


Some years ago in Jersey one or two of the Island’s leaders were concerned that the effect of States policies with regard to the finance industry (in particular the insistence on growth occurring through the admission into Jersey of world-class banking institutions) might serve to produce an island of employees – rather than an island of self-employed entrepreneurs. The increasing number of major institutions - all employers of labour - has, indeed, had this effect.


But the same is true in horticulture. Production of the Jersey Royal has been centralised into very few hands – there are many more labourer/employees in than industry and far fewer independent growers than 10 years ago.   


What is it that is rather unsatisfactory about being “labour”, about being an “employee”? Take a look at the bullet points (in bold above) in Jesus’ scripture reading at the very start of his “going public” when he was 30 years old.


Yes, “labour” is not well rewarded, is often “poor” by comparison with “the owners”. And “labour” is, indeed, “captive”. It’s difficult to move jobs – more difficult to branch out into one’s own business. Moreover, “labour” cannot see (especially in Jersey where company accounts do not need to be filed for public inspection) and longs to “recover sight” so as to obtain a fairer share of corporate profit. Also, is “labour” not “oppressed”?


But what about the fifth of Jesus’ statements? “The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me ...... to proclaim ...... the year of the LORD’s favour.”


Actually, Jesus was reading from an ancient book written by a man named Isaiah who had lived in Israel around 700 years previously. Because Isaiah’s writings were greatly respected in Jesus’ day most people would have recognised that Isaiah was referring to the Year of Jubilee – and that Jesus was proclaiming that kind of year.


The Year of Jubilee? These dated from around 1300 BC. They were to occur every fiftieth year when the whole year was a holiday, when all debts were cancelled, when land previously parted with (for a while) reverted to its original family ownership and when all “labour” was released.


Coming back to today in Jersey, is what Jesus read formally that Saturday morning relevant to us Jersey folk? Or only relevant in that rather unpleasant town of Nazareth where he was brought up?


The most relevant thing about it is this: he closed the book after reading these sentences from Isaiah that were bringing extremely welcome news to the people there. There was no other message from Jesus – and this was right at the very start of his (as it were) celebrity time. Good news for the poor; liberty for captives; sight for the blind; freedom for the oppressed; the jubilee year.


As Labour Day in Jersey comes and goes, why then are we ashamed of this Jesus? Why do we hate to hear his name? Or cringe with embarrassment when speaking it? Or use it as a swear word?


Maybe he was lying – in word and in deeds?          

 ‘We need to be delivered from the freedom which is absolute prison into the prison which is perfect freedom.’ (William Temple, Former Archbishop of Canterbury, 1881-1944)
‘Why, what has my Lord done/ to cause this rage and spite?/ He made the lame to run/ he gave the blind their sight:/ what injuries!/ Yet these are why/ the Lord most high/ so cruelly dies’.(Samuel Crossman, Minister, 1624-1683)
Richard Syvret

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