More Lessons from the Edge of the Field

My last post used Lev. 23:22 as test case to consider the ethical import found in the Old Testament Law.  This verse instructs the Israelites not to harvest their fields to the edge but to leave the gleanings for the poor.  At least a couple of principles can be learned from this passage:

  • Provisions were made for the poor. There was a social responsibility to provide for those that were poor and could not provide for themselves. Often this group included widows, orphans and sojourners, individuals that would not have been landowners in that agrarian society.
  • While provisions were made for the poor, this was not exactly a hand-out. The poor who were able-bodied would have still collected the left over gleanings. Allowing the poor to work would have provided them dignity and self-respect as they contributed to collection of food.

This kind of law provides an appropriate perspective to life for the wealthy and the poor. The landowner would have seen the importance of helping others, and the accumulation of wealth would have been tempered by the consideration of the plight of others. Wealth is used for a purpose – for sustaining the welfare of human life. It is not an end in itself. The poor would have learned the importance of labor. Poverty was not an excuse not to work. The poor would have additionally learned lessons of dependence, the kindness of others, and the provisions of God.

It’s also important to note that this law would have contributed to the solidarity of the community. The wealthy and the poor would have interacted with each other, and both would have been forced to consider the situation of the other. A common cause and experience were found in the fields.

This causes me to reflect on how the principles of this law can be implemented today. First, there needs to be a genuine concern for the poor and their welfare. There should be jobs and provisions for the poor, but I think that it is important for the poor to make a physical and emotional contribution for whatever they receive. I believe that most poor people truly want this as well. There is a dignity and self-respect that comes along with work. While charity may be beneficial at times, continual free handouts can cheapen a person’s humanity and destroy their drive and motivation.

One implementation of this concept can be found in The Contributor, Nashville’s homeless newspaper. This is a newspaper that the homeless/former homeless sell. I believe they buy the magazine at a fairly cheap rate, and then they are able to keep the proceeds from whatever they sell.  I always buy one when I see a vendor. It’s a great way to support those who are less fortunate but are trying to work and earn a living.

Any other ideas out there? This is a topic that we must consider.

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