Tucked away in the bowels of Leviticus is a simple law that I feel sheds deep insight in our poverty alleviation strategies today. It is called the law of gleaning.
A few months ago I was visiting a farm of a friend of mine and I was watching as an employee emptied some hay into a feeding trough of some kind. He was using some sort of a Bobcat/ front in loader to do it. As he picked up the hay, some would fall off the bobcat claw and land on the ground around the trough. When he finished loading the trough he came by with a rake and picked up the loose hay and dumped it into the trough. The whole process reminded me of gleaning. The “loose hay” was kind of like the extras that the farmers of Leviticus were told to leave for the poor to glean.
“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
Though the law of gleaning doesn’t look the same for farmers and business owners today, I believe there is much we can “glean” from the “gleaning” principle.
Our heart as Reconciled World is to love the vulnerable. And in doing so we want to allow Biblical principles (such as the law of gleaning) to inform and shape our response in a way that is effective, loving and Truth based.
So what can gleaning teach us about how we are to respond to the poor and vulnerable today?? Here are a few of my observations:
Resources are important
Many of the vulnerable in the Bible did not have access to land. Widows, foreigners and orphans would not have inherited land thus they had no means of planting and harvesting food. They were left in a very precarious position. Without land how would they provide for themselves and their family?? Basically the vulnerable in the Bible did not have access to one of the most strategic resources, land. I think the same can be true of many vulnerable people today. Access to resources is vitally important (education, transportation, loans, housing, skill training, networks and opportunities etc.) Without these elements, succeeding and overcoming poverty is tough.
Gleaning gave access
The law of gleaning however, gave the vulnerable access and opportunity. They could provide for themselves by harvesting the edges of the field; the grain and produce that were unripe or missed during the initial harvest, and whatever sprang up in the fields that lay fallow any given year, would be theirs. Many of us have lives filled with access. We know people, have connections and can quickly make a phone call to get help if need be. As the “rich landowners” how do we offer the vulnerable access to our resources?
Gleaning provided opportunities for fruitfulness
God’s intention for people is fruitfulness. (Gen. 1:28) Gleaning offered exactly that. It provided an opportunity for productive work for those who otherwise would have to depend on begging, slavery, prostitution or other forms of degradation. Gleaners maintained the skills, self-respect, physical conditioning and work habits that would make them productive in ordinary farming, should the opportunity of marriage, adoption, or return to their country of origin arise.  Work through gleaning gave the vulnerable a chance to produce and care for their needs. They were fruitful in their own unique way.
Gleaning affirmed dignity
If a landowner ran across a hungry, vulnerable person they would be left with differing options. One, let them starve; or two give them food to eat. Option one is totally improper, but option two also had some drawbacks. While option two would alleviate their hunger it would make them ever more dependent on the farmer for food. Such dependence was not healthy either. Gleaning however, would allow the vulnerable to work for their product. In doing so the poor could use their own labors to produce, feed and care for their family. This process would inherently affirm the dignity of the individual, utilize their skills and abilities, release them from long-term dependency and protect them from any exploitation that may happen through their vulnerability. Gleaning edified the very dignity and being of the person, something that is often stripped away through poverty and vulnerability.
Many of the poor and vulnerable today struggle with shame and dignity issues. Giving them an opportunity to work, grow skills and provide for their needs is a step in the right direction. It at the very least shows them that they can be productive, valuable assets to their community.
What does this mean for us today?
Many debates have been raged over public vs private assistance, individual vs social responsibility, and everything in between. I don’t think the law of gleaning will answer all of those questions for us. However, I do feel the basic principle can provide us with a guide to deeper more focused discussion and solutions.
The poor and vulnerable are inherently valuable, eternally precious people. They merit the respect and dignity that we all deserve. Gleaning gave the vulnerable access to resources, opportunities for fruitfulness and reason to hope instead of smothering them in dependency and exploitation. It affirmed dignity through giving them the means towards productive work. How might our current legislation, business practices and relationships offer the same to those in vulnerability?
Though you may not drive a combine or move hay for a living you are in many ways like that farmer. Consider your time, small business or social networks as a field to be harvested, and something you are called to share with the poor. Don’t hoard these resources in a way that focuses on profit or abundance, but offer your margins to the poor.
- Offer the poor some of your time and see how you might be given the opportunity to speak into their life.
- If able, offer the poor a position at your workplace, and consider it a privilege, in place of efficiency, to train and develop a worker into a productive fruit-producing citizen.
- Offer the poor a hand up in making connections; finding jobs openings or putting together a resume.
- Offer the vulnerable your effort and show them that they are worthy of being called a friend.
There are many great agencies and organizations out there. I encourage you to find one and let them glean of your resources. Encourage a person in poverty or vulnerability and show them the respect, love and dignity they deserve. I think that is what Christians can learn from the principles of gleaning in Leviticus.
Start today! Don’t be afraid to be a farmer and friend to a person in need!
Many of the thoughts in this blog entry were borrowed from the following resourceBeverley Goodwin/ Flickr.com