Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gleaning

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 -- Week of 7 Epiphany, Year One
Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr of Smyrna, 156
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:
http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 948)
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning)       128, 129, 130 (evening)
Ruth 2:1-13
2 Corinthians 1:23 - 2:17
Matthew 5:21-26

We see today an example of an early form of welfare system.  Ruth and Naomi are immigrants.  Naomi has family in Bethlehem.  Ruth is a foreigner, a Moabite, who was married to Naomi's son.  They are both widows.  Ruth goes into the grain fields to glean. 

Gleaning was an early form of welfare, mandated in the Torah for the relief of the poor and the alien.  The Torah functioned as the legal and political law for much of Israel's history.  "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien:  I am the LORD your God."  (Leviticus 19:9)  "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 left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan and the widow."  (Deuteronomy 23:19-20) 

Gleaning concerned the portion of the harvest that fell to the ground in the process of reaping, or what was left along the edges of the field where farmers were prohibited to harvest, both to prevent trespass by taking produce that might belong to a neighbor, and to provide for the poor.  Gleaning could also included anything left on the olive trees after the first beating of the limbs, or anything left in the field after it is worked by the harvesters.

Ruth asked for a privilege that is a bit beyond the scope of the common gleaning privileges.  "Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers," she asked.  Because of her beauty, she catches the eye of a landowner, Boaz.  He has heard of her kindness to her mother-in-law Naomi.  He tells her to stay in his field to glean, and he gives further instructions to his laborers to leave some extra grain for her to glean, to allow her to drink water from their supply, and not to bother her.  This last instruction is a reminder of how vulnerable poor women in a field might be, and a clue that physical or sexual abuse was a risk.

In nineteenth century England, the church sexton would ring the bell at eight in the morning and again at seven in the evening to signal to village cottagers when they could enter and leave the field for their gleaning.  In our day, organizations like the Arkansas Food Bank collects from groceries and other sources dented cans or food that has passed its due date.  Our Community Meals program uses Food Bank "gleanings" to supplement our hot lunch ministry on Mondays and Wednesdays at St. Paul's.  (Here's the web page for the Arkansas Food Bank: http://nwafoodbank.org.  They take donations of money and of non-perishable food items.)  We have several restaurants who donate directly to Community Meals as well as to Seven Hills Homeless Center, another program that St. Paul's started.  The Cobblestone Project is another local non-profit that uses various strategies for gleaning, including restaurant donations.  Our Angel Food program could be considered a form of gleaning.  That ministry connects directly with producers to purchase quality food at bulk discounts.  Then through a volunteer distribution network through churches they can offer the food at a very low price.

To my mind Food Stamps is one of the most efficient and effective modern ways of following the Biblical tradition of gleaning.  As a community we do not harvest to the edge of our economic field or claim and consume every scrap of money that we produce.  Through our taxes we leave some of our reaping behind for the common good, and a portion of that is turned into Food Stamps that the poor can use to purchase food and necessities. 

Food Stamps has been a remarkably successful program for reducing hunger in the U. S.  The apportionments are modest.  But they make a huge difference.  (I'm amused and delighted when a legislator will try to live on Food Stamps for a while just to experience how hard it is.) 

Two compassionate Biblical mandates are at the core of the story of Ruth.  First, gleaning, as a form of providing for the poor.  But also we see a commandment and tradition of hospitality and care for the alien, the stranger and the immigrant. 

For those of us who embrace Biblical values, it is important that we support and advocate for similar values in our corporate life.  These are values that are under attack in many political circles today by those who seem to think compassion is neither a religious mandate nor a social norm.  The story of Ruth is a reminder that we are called to be a caring and compassionate society, with structures and laws that embody our responsibilities for one another, especially for the vulnerable.
____

I preached recently on today's gospel.  

Lowell

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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
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Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


6 Comments:

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great points about regarding the food bank and other private charities. I also think individual in churches often help in times of need though we could all do more.
Food stamps, however, is in no way similar. Here there is NO personal responsibility or accountability. Your reference said "I am the LORD your God". If you believe it, you should also live it. Endorsing a government take over of our responsibility is equivalent to saying that verse is a lie, if it were true, then God wouldn't need plans and schemes to augment his plan. Kinda hard to be consistent and expect consistency when you endorse the ursurping of God. G

 
At 9:08 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the comments. I've seen this argument before that charity is the responsibility of churches and not of the government or of the society at large as it expresses its values through the government.

I think it is an unrealistic and faulty argument.

First, on a practical basis. I've looked at the numbers. Food Stamps is but one governmental program that could be considered a form of charity, outreach, or providing for the common welfare (as the Constitution puts it). Food Stamps alone has an annual budget that is larger than the total revenues of every church in the USA that reports revenues. (And that's all the big ones, and most of the others.)

If churches quit paying their ministers and staffs, their utilities and expenses, and gave every dollar contributed -- it wouldn't quite match what Food Stamps does.

Not having government involved in our social responsibility as a nation is a shirking of our individual and corporate responsibilities. It's also bad strategy, because government can do what churches and individuals can't.

Government is not taking over our responsibility but enabling it. We use government to express our corporate values.

 
At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So go with that "i know better than God" philosophy.

 
At 5:03 AM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Part of an understanding of gleaning is to glean truth and wisdom in our reading of sacred scripture. It seems to me from the biblical tradition that the onus for accountability and responsibility to God and to the vulnerable of one's society was on the landowners and not on the widow, orphan, or foreigner that was hungry and perhaps just passing through. Access to a portion of the grain was to be provided to them out of the largess of those who had enough.

Humble gleanings from the utopian pigpen.

Peace,
Janet

 
At 7:45 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Dear Anon:

You imply that God said "Governments that provide support to the poor and needy are an abomination."

I believe if you will read Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah you will find the prophets saying just the opposite.

Lowell

 
At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you could make a case for "rightous" governments, but now our abomination.

 

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