Thursday, February 07, 2013

Economic Life (12) Duty to the Poor

In every community, some people do well and others do badly. God’s instructions for economic life provide safeguards for the poor.

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God (Lev 19:9-10).
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow (Deut 24:19-21).
The people in a neighbourhood are to leave some of their crops for the poor to harvest. This is not a hand out, because the poor have to work to get the produce.

This assistance is not just for immediate neighbours. It must be offered to foreigners who have chosen to live in the neighbourhood. Ruth was a Moabite (Moab was an enemy of Israel) yet Boaz allowed her to glean on his fields.

Gleaning only works in agricultural societies, but the principle applies everywhere. God expects his people to find ways to give some of what they have produced to the poor. Giving to relief organisations is not enough. God prefers that we find ways to emulate gleaning by blessing the poor living around us in our neighbourhoods. People in business have an obligation to assist the people in their neighbourhood. Much is expected from those who have been given more. This is what loving your neighbour means.

The command about gleaning does not mean that everyone has a free hand to reap other people’s crops. A duty of care remains.
If you enter your neighbour’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbour’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain (Deut 23:24-25).
A hungry person walking past a vineyard can take a few grapes, but they are not to use a container. A person walking through a wheat field can take a few grains in their hands to calm their hunger, but they must not use a sickle to cut the grain. Jesus and his disciples were acting this command when they were challenged by the Pharisees for working on the sabbath.
He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-24)?
The Pharisees were wrong, because the disciples were not harvesting. The command that permitted them to eat grains, explicitly forbade the use of sickles, so it was not harvesting.

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