Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.
There’s a running debate about how to best provide for the needy in American society. We’re of two major minds and dozens of minor ones about the topic. There is one camp that wants to simply give food or money or what-have-you to those whose income is at a certain low level. These folks have some pretty valid points. The other camp is those who want to set up a program whereby those need food or money or what-have-you can earn it. These folks also have some pretty valid points. There are other ways that the debate splits: along the lines of voluntary giving for the poor versus tax monies being used to take care of the poor, etc.
Back when, God set up the law of Israel and made provision for the poor and the needy. This provision came in the form of gleanings. The poor could come by after the harvesters and grab whatever was left behind. The idea was sound. A farmer would harvest the vast majority of his crops, but these bits and pieces that were dropped or were somehow missed or happened to be off in the far corners of things were not brought into his storehouses and were, instead, left for the poor. Since this was an agrarian society, this concept of gleanings worked perfectly, when it was used (for an example of it working, see the book of Ruth). But that’s the problem, people are greedy. They were back when. They are now.
In the end, the concept that God was trying to drive home, I think, is that He wants to bless His children enough that we are able to let that blessing overflow to those who have less. He wants to make the majority of what we earn sufficient to our needs and allow us the blessing of having a portion to give to the needy. America still has this idea left over from a time when we considered ourselves a “Christian nation”. It shows up in our foreign aid policies and how we try to supply the needs of those who have been struck by tragedy. We have been a wealthy nation who tried to share that wealth with others when they were in need. Years ago, there was a news report that pointed out that some of the “homeless” that people were giving to by the side of the road were actually living in nice homes and doing pretty well for themselves just begging by the roadside. That news report made people suspicious and giving to those folks by the roadside dwindled. The sad part of all of it is that those who were truly in need are, in all likelihood, still in the same places asking for money for food or shelter while those who were conning the rest of us out of our money have probably moved on to some other way of bilking people.
So, how do we address the needy among us in the modern, non-agrarian society in which we live? I don’t know. Many years ago, there was a film version of Pride and Prejudice based on the play adaptation that included the line, “You must learn to draw a firm line between the deserving poor and the undeserving.” There are some who are in genuine need while there are others using our sympathies to bilk us out of our money. There are some who would prefer to work and earn their way while there are others who want to sit around doing nothing and receive a check from the government for that. Both exist, though in what ratio I do not know.
As far as I can tell, I need to be discerning. I need to be in prayer and listening to God’s Spirit as He prompts me. That guy by the off-ramp, should I give him something? Spirit says yes. What about that guy? Spirit says no. God knows what’s really going on and is more than able to guide my action and my inaction. I need to be listening.
Oh, there is no way for a government to fix the problem. When God made the law about gleanings, it applied to individuals, not the government. Individuals can, potentially, work to solve the problem and provide for the needy. There’s a t-shirt out there that ways, “Government: If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions!” There’s a lot of truth there. The burden of taking care of the needy falls now, as it always has, on individuals. It falls to me and to everyone else who has something that they are able to give … even if it’s just a meal.