John Oliver’s Holy Work

John Oliver’s Holy Work

This past Sunday, John Oliver made television history by giving away nearly $15 million. Well, sort of. In his piece about how scarily easy it is to buy debt, he formed the company “Central Asset Recovery Professionals” (or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish), and then spent $60,000 to buy the medical debt of 9,000 Texans, totaling nearly $15 million.

As Oliver said, “[I]f I wanted to, I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside down over medical debt they no longer had to pay. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that.”

So instead of harassing people over their debt, Oliver decided to forgive it. And all I could think of was how Oliver’s debt forgiveness was holy work — and work that’s rooted in the Bible.

Every seventh year, according to Deuteronomy, all debts are to be cancelled. In Hebrew, it’s called the shmita year, and was designed to ensure that no one was caught in a trap of poverty trying to get out from under their debt. In fact, the verse inscribed on the Liberty Bell — “Proclaim liberty throughout the land” — is related to the laws of shmita. It’s designed to remind us that everyone deserves a chance to be free, and crushing debt curtails that freedom.

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