Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More than just gleaning

Sunday's reading from Hebrew scripture will be from the 19th chapter of Leviticus, including these verses:

19:9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.

What struck me on first reading these again was that the poor were actually allowed onto the fields to glean; the leftovers were not managed by the landowners and distributed according to the landowner's policies, but the gleaners came onto the land, and their labor yielded their gleanings. Somehow, this seems more dignified and just than the ways we in our place and time usually manage our charitable activity. Perhaps it shows more trust, and more of a relationship, between the poor and the rich than we experience.

And here is something else - the Hebrew word and its variations for glean is the same word usually translated "gather" in the story of manna in Exodus. So these same folks who are being exhorted to leave something for the gleaners have themselves been dependent on gleaning.

The Israelites in transit have been dependent on gleaning that which was provided by God for their sustenance. They know this radical dependence.

In effect, then, they are doing what has been done for them when they leave the grain at the edges, and the grapes which are not quite ripe, and the windfalls of their fruit. Their awareness of radical dependence helps them understand and act generously toward others - to give not just of their stuff, but out of their own lived experience.

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