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Gleaning the Harvest

December 14, 2010

Levitical law states that a man is neither to reap the harvest of his fields “to the very corners,” nor to “gather the gleanings” of the harvest. (Leviticus 19)

Behind my house are approximately 20 acres of farm land and this year the farmer who leases the land planted cotton. After he harvested the cotton into large blocks to be picked up by trucks and hauled to a plant somewhere, the field was left with the remains of the cotton. The machine that the farmer uses does not pick every clump of cotton from the plant so that the field is left sitting with partially denuded plants upon which a handful of cotton blooms cling. Some blooms have fallen and lay on the field only to be decomposed over the course of the winter. No one will come back through the field to gather the remaining cotton that was left over from the harvest. It will be reworked into the ground before the next planting.

This image has helped me to see what YHWH was instructing the Israelites to do during and after the harvest. The remains were to be left for the poor, widow, and orphan. It was the means by which the community was to take care of those members unable to care for themselves.

I asked my students today whether or not Ruth was a heroine and the class was divided, largely due to their definitions of a hero. The conversation turned to Ruth’s character and whether she was a faithful “servant of YHWH.” Nowhere in the text does Ruth ever address YHWH, or verbally express any faith. Yet, her actions, life, and character align with the covenant stipulations YHWH requires from his people in the land of promise.

Ruth partakes in the provisions of Levitical law gleaning first from the harvest, and later enjoys the blessings that accompany covenant faithfulness when she conceives and gives birth to a son.

Because Levitical law required landowners to leave the excess from their harvests for the poor, orphans and widows in the community, Ruth was able to preserve her livelihood and the livelihood of Naomi as well.

“So,” one student concluded, “the people were commanded by God to redistribute wealth.”

Now, our discussion began to shift to a political analysis of taxing the wealthy in order to provide for the poor. Should those who have provide for those who do not have? And, is this in fact what God instituted?

Deuteronomy 24 picks up the Levitical mandate reminding the people “that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.” Like the poor, orphan, and widow, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt before YHWH delivered, fed, and provided for them from Egypt to Canaan. By entering into a covenant with YHWH, the people are obligated to extend the same provisional grace that YHWH extended to them. That is, the Levitical law concerning the harvest gleanings sets forth the manner by which the people may imitate YHWH.

The obligatory nature of the covenant distances the Levitical law from the concept of redistribution. In addition, Leviticus 19 couches the command within the larger context of the second great law Jesus references in the NT, namely, love your neighbor as yourself.  Attending to the poor and needy within our community is an act that proceeds from a covenant of love for one’s neighbor. It is a means for distributing the grace available within a community for the community. The provision is not taking what belongs to one and giving it to another. The provision creates a place (corner of the fields) where one may choose to extend grace to another, to attend, to love. The provision calls upon the covenant community to “cultivate and keep.” Raping the land starves the community. Taking what has not been given isolates one from the covenant to the point at which one will eventually stand outside the garden to cultivate only thorns and thistles.

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From → Politics, Theology

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