When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. [Leviticus 19:9-10 (ESV)]
When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. [Deuteronomy 24:19-21 (ESV)]
As we drove by a recently harvested field, I saw a flock of Sandhill Cranes gleaning the left-over grain. I thought of the words in Deuteronomy and Leviticus directing the Israelites to deliberately leave some produce behind for those less fortunate–the poor and foreigners—the sort of people who wouldn’t have land of their own from which to harvest. No simple handout, this law guaranteed them a chance to improve their lives while maintaining their dignity as they labored in the fields.
The Old Testament command to leave behind the left-overs for the poor was not to be taken lightly. In fact, if nothing remained in the fields following harvest, the landowner could be punished. This law allowed the widowed foreigner Ruth, one of Jesus’ ancestors, to survive with Naomi on the grain she gathered from Boaz’s fields.
As I thought about leaving a little behind for those less fortunate, I remembered the words of some friends. Having no children and knowing they can’t take their money with them, they’ve decided to spend every cent before they die. If anything happens to be left over (as I expect it will), a few well-off nieces will get it. Granted, this couple earned their money and it is theirs to dispose of as they wish. What shocked me, however, was their comment that “No charity will ever get a penny of it!” There will be no left-overs for the less fortunate from their field!
The laws about gleaning taught the Hebrews not to be greedy with their blessings; they learned that a joyful time, like a harvest, is a time for generosity and compassion. Jesus continued in that vein when he commanded us to share our excess and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In our Judeo-Christian culture today, both faiths embrace the concept of sharing with and caring for others and encourage a willingness to give up what is rightfully ours to share with those less fortunate. Not generously loving is no more an option for us as Christians than not leaving grain in the field was for the Old Testament landowner.
I’m not a farmer—I have no fields, vineyards or olive trees—but I certainly have been blessed with more than I need. Remembering that time and talent are as a valuable as money, I imagine most of us have plenty of something that could be shared with those less fortunate. It has been said that the best thing anyone can give someone is a chance. The bits of grain left in the field gave the cranes nourishment and a better chance of surviving their long flight south. By leaving part of the harvest, the Old Testament poor were given a chance to survive and better their lives. Do you have anything, even a few left-overs, to share that could give someone a chance?
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” [Luke 3:10-11 (ESV)]
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. [Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)]