Garage gleanings

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 19:9-10

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 23:22

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. ~ Deuteronomy 24:19-22

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. ~ Ruth 2:2-3

Think of it. God commanded farmers to be inefficient at what they do for the sake of the poor. They were not to maximize their “stewardship” of their resources but were to instead allow economic inefficiency to benefit the poor.

This is so contrary to the drumbeat of stewardship and resourcefulness that receives most of the attention in the American church (at least in my experience). The gleaning laws were not about some special act of charity. Rather, in the normal course of your work and life, you were to be a bit sloppy and inefficient so others might benefit. You were not to be faithful in the little acts of diligence so God would bless your work. Instead, you were to neglect what might be considered normal diligent work so that God would bless you.

But how might this apply to the very non-agrarian life most of us live? One pattern that Tricia and I have tried to establish that might be an application is this: we don’t do garage sales. In the normal course of things, all that stuff that might go into a garage sale goes to Goodwill. Oh, we sell an occasional large item on eBay or Craigslist. But rather than seeking to capitalize on the clothes, toys, and household items that need a new home, we pass them along with the hope that they might help the poor. In this way we aspire to “not reap your field right up to its edge”.

In what other ways might we live out the gleaning laws today? Where should our normal view of diligent stewardship give way to a Godly inefficiency that benefits the poor?

9 Comments

  1. jennifer
    Apr 21, 2007

    Sometimes you might be more able to help the poor by offering your items in a garage sale at a great price. Being an avid thrift store shopper, I often find Goodwill’s prices to be too high. I know you are busy with life, so garage sales may be just too hard to get together. So there is also the idea of donating your extras to ministries that provide household items to refugees (like here in STL to the Bosnian and Liberian communities) or others in need.

  2. Tricia
    Apr 21, 2007

    Interesting point about Goodwill, Jennifer – we may have to rethink that. We have given to different charities/ministries in the past, many of whom aren’t charging anything for the things they disperse. But you are correct about our bandwidth for a garage sale: it is so nonexistent, and makes no sense for us since we have no desire to make any $$ from what we are just trying to give away! One thing we’ve done each month recently for some larger items that we’re parting with as a result of downsizing is putting them out front of our house on bulk item pickup weeks; folks know to drive the neighborhoods on those weeks, and all our bulkier items have been picked up for free by people who can use them. I love that, and it’s as easy as it gets!

  3. Uncle Andrew
    Apr 22, 2007

    I was afraid to answer your question at first Jay, because it seemed like an invite to boast in our good works, but I feel like I have a good example:

    In my job I have to carefully manage the number of samples I give away each month, since my company only allots a certain number to each region. But there is a Christian-run free clinic in one of my zip codes that I make a point to visit once a month and give stock bottles to since their patients wouldn’t be able to afford their prescriptions otherwise. For me it isn’t incredibly efficient because I could be using those samples in other offices where I would benefit more, and the time I spend there could often be used with more influential doctors. But the fact remains that these people need help and I happen to sell a drug that can prevent them from having a stroke or heart attack, which is more common in the indigent.

  4. Jay
    Apr 22, 2007

    Great example, Andrew, and I appreciate your willingness to share it. I think your concern about boasting is valid, but as you obviously determined, it is not the only concern. Somehow, we have to converse about the faith, and the faith has a lot to say about how we live, so our conversation has to touch on our lives at some point.

  5. Adrian Gallagher
    Apr 22, 2007

    Googled Craigslist as I’d never heard of it and found this example of what we should not do: “Craigslist has been compared to Wal-Mart, a multinational corporation that some feel crushes small local businesses when they move into towns and offer a huge assortment of goods at arguably cheaper prices” (not sure of the truth of the comment about Craigslist, but the Wal-Mart illustrates the issue. A donut shop owner friend of mine got an apology from the local Woolworth’s manager when Woolworth’s higher management forced him to start selling donuts).

    So should the inspiration to give one’s 110% be changed to give 90%? How to work this out in a fallen world, particularly when working for someone else seems rather tricky!

  6. Araceli
    Apr 23, 2007

    Loved this entry. The other thing that is interesting about these passages is that it says something else and that is about how HARD you should work. It ties into the passages regarding the Sabbath. God has simply built in, not only inefficiency, but rest. Don’t go back to pick up that last bit of wheat! Let it go! And God will actually bless someone with it.

    We’ve been working hard over here at Casa Jonsson to keep our sanity, and we’ve been thinking about having more margins in our lives… not working ourselves to a pulp, be that with keeping a perfect house (ha!ha!) or writing perfect software. Here is a fine example of that in scripture.

    Re: the giving away ideas, we found these encouraging. We often give to people who work in our house at a given moment, be it a housekeeper, a painter, a yard person. We have Liberian refugees in our church, so most of our stuff goes there. We also do freecycle, which I highly recommend as a great way to give away larger items. I guess many people with computers aren’t exactly destitute, but I actually have found a large cross-section of people coming to pick up things from my porch.

  7. Jay
    Apr 23, 2007

    That’s an interesting connection with the Sabbath, Araceli, and ties in nicely with Jesus’ emphasis on connecting the Sabbath and mercy.

    BTW, I actually spent several years in Liberia as a small child. It’s interesting how the different communities coalesce. We actually have a small service in Twi for the families at our church from Ghana, as there is a significant Ghanaian community in Dallas.

  8. Meredith
    Apr 25, 2007

    Interesting discussion! I have had yard sales when money was tight for us. Now, I try to pass along all our household goods, except for items I have bought especially for resale. Someone ALWAYS comes to get free stuff listed on Craig’s List or Freecycle.

    Honestly, I think the blessings that come from giving far outweigh the profit from a yard sale. Plus, it’s a whole lot less work!

  9. Jay
    Apr 25, 2007

    “Plus, it’s a whole lot less work!”

    And I’m more and more convinced that’s a critical element of these laws. I’ve been thinking about Araceli’s reference to the Sabbath and rest. Perhaps this is a charitable outworking of Proverbs 23:4.

    “Do not toil to acquire wealth;
    be discerning enough to desist.”