Gleaning Compassion



Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Leviticus 19:1-18, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, Matthew 6:19-24

Sometimes it can feel difficult to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament. Even if we consider Christ’s sacrifice a watershed event (the moment when we were freed from the law and its harsh demands), the God who wiped out entire nations to make room for the Israelites seems very far from the God of Christ who wants us to love our enemies. But even in the hundreds of laws laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy we see glimpses of Christ’s teachings.

Amid rules like being cast out for eating sacrificed food after three days, God commands his people not to harvest to the edge of their fields, and not to pick up the fallen crops and grapes. This is so the poor and alien among them – those whom Jesus might call “the least of these” – can find food. This practice, called gleaning, was a mandate to the nation. God tells his people to render justice impartially, without regard to poverty or wealth, foreshadowing Paul’s message that in Christ there is no slave or free. Perhaps most tellingly, God instructs them to “love your neighbor as yourself.” When most people use that phrase they’re thinking of the Gospels, not rule-laden Leviticus.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul advises: “test everything; hold fast to what is good.” When tackling difficult portions of the Old Testament, the standard against which we can test them is Christ’s message of love. Even though Christ tells us to refrain from judgment, we must be careful not to set the standard as “all is forgiven so anything goes.” The Old Testament, even the parts that seem barbaric by modern standards, contains many valuable lessons and we do ourselves a disservice if we dismiss or ignore them. At the very least, they help us understand how our perception of and relationship to God has evolved over the years.

Paul also tells them “to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.” From gleaners to Thessalonians, in every age God teaches us to love and care for all his children.

Comfort: God always loves us.

Challenge: Be open-minded about weakness, whether yours or another’s.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for allowing me to test all things. Teach me what is good, that I may hold fast to it. Amen.

Discussion: Are you patient with people you see as weak, idle, or fearful? What weaknesses do you have that you wish you could hide from others?

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Gleaning Wisdom


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Ruth 2:1-13, 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17, Matthew 5:21-26

When Naomi returns with Ruth to Bethlehem, Ruth begins gleaning from the barley fields to find “someone in whose sight [she] may find favor.” Today the word “glean” usually describes a collecting of thoughts and ideas that originally belonged to others. Used biblically, “to glean” specifically means to collect the leftovers from a harvested field. Jewish law people explicitly instructed farmers not to harvest to the edge of a field, or to go back for what they had missed, so that widows, orphans, and impoverished aliens could find sustenance in what remained (Leviticus 19:9, 23:22). Naomi and Ruth both believed their future depended the fortunes of others, be it a farmer or husband.

Ruth eventually reaches the fields of Naomi’s cousin Boaz. Because of Naomi’s plight and Ruth’s faithfulness, he invites Ruth to drink from his harvesters’ vessels and to work among his people. He responds favorably to Ruth’s kindness to her mother-in-law. But what about others who suffer equally? Boaz wouldn’t have the resources to be as generous to all who gleaned, but in God’s eyes are others any less deserving? Jesus asks: “if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt 5:47). Boaz’s response is commendable, but it also raises questions about the nature of charity. Most are willing to go above and beyond for a loved one, but few do so for strangers.

Today we might call gleaning a social safety net. It represents a mind-set that runs counter to the popular “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Jewish culture assumed the poor would always be present, and mandated generosity. In America such approaches are highly controversial. Pro or con, we all can examine the social structures that make such safety nets ne cessary in the first place. Is society’s time better spent on perpetuating a gleaning mentality, or on eradicating the need for it by overcoming poverty? Can they be separated? The answers are not clear, but to participate in a society defined by God’s mercy and justice, we must continue to seek them.

Comfort: There is enough for all, if we don’t hoard more than we need.

Challenge: Meditate on these questions about charity: Who do you feel “deserves” it? How is it best managed? Does it matter to you whether it’s mandated or voluntary? If so, is that more about your needs or the needs of the less fortunate?

Prayer: God of abundance, teach me to see Christ in the needy. Amen.

Discussion: When do you find it easy to be charitable? Difficult?

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