In the Old Testament, God the Father gave provision in the law for the poor, widows, and foreigners to be able to glean the crop from the edges of the landowners’ fields:
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; also 23:22)
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. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24:19-22)
God’s provision for the poor or afflicted was gracious and free, but not effortless. While it was there for the taking, they still had to go get it.
We’ve had times in the past where we’ve given money to those who couldn’t afford to pay their bills, only to have that happen again a month or two later. And then again. And then again. I wonder if this “gracious gift of ours” (ha!) wasn’t gracious at all because it replaces need with privilege.
Of course, it’s not like I’m exempt from the principle. I really can’t count how many times the grace I’ve been shown has then turned into entitlement and ungratefulness. What I see is that our hearts are wicked and find it far too easy to confuse gifts with wages and donated with deserved. So there’s that.
Regardless, I do wonder what the 21st century American version of this gleaning principle might be. I hate the idea of giving money with strings attached. That feels like some kind of contract or deal, which I don’t think is the point. How could we leave the edges of our field unreaped? What does it look like to leave a commodity available, but in a form that requires some impetus from the receiving party to get it?
I really don’t know, but I feel like there has to be something better than a welfare state or pan handlers or church benevolence fund shoppers.