Do you remember the story of Ruth? Remember that after her husband died she moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, also widowed. Many of us remember that she ended up in King David’s genealogy because she marries a man, Boaz, in Bethlehem. The story is one of dedication and redemption. It is the story of the answered prayer of Boaz:
“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (2:11,12)
I want to focus on the setting, not the story itself. The marriage of Boaz to Ruth would be impossible if not for a legal requirement that God laid down for the Jews. In Leviticus, nestled snugly between the requirements for the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Trumpets, lies this requirement:
‘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. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’ (23:22)
This commandment is repeated again in Deuteronomy, but here we find more details:
When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, 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 alien, 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 alien, the fatherless and the widow.(24:19-21)
God commands His followers to leave some of their harvest for the poor, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows. In our New Testament church we tend to overlook some of these commands, after all, we are no longer under the Law, so we are not required to follow it.
But I don’t believe that is strictly true. While we are no longer condemned by the Law, Jesus sums up the Law for His followers and explicitly commands us to follow it. Matthew 22 captures the conversation between Jesus and the followers of the Law like this:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'”(22:36-39).
I pay special attention to what Jesus says next – and I ask you to as well. He does not say that the Law is no longer valid or good. Rather He says, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”(22:40).
Rather than throwing out the Law, Jesus summarizes it. All the things that the Law commanded of the Jews was in order to bring them into right relationship with God and with man.
By saying that we should still consider the Law, I don’t mean to say that we do all the Law. After all do we still sacrifice? Of course not! The sacrifice of Christ is more than enough. Our debt is satisfied and truly there is no condemnation for believers.
But responsibility towards God and man as enumerated in the Law was not abolished at the time that Jesus gave His life for us. In fact, to believe so would be akin to saying that Jesus died for our sins, the ultimate act of reconciliation between God and man, so that we no longer need be concerned with active reconciliation with God or man. Obviously, that would be ridiculous since the Great Commandment is just that!
No, Jesus’ death is the chief act of charity and compassion for His fellow man. And we who call ourselves followers of Christ, that is “Christian,” must follow His lead. We are to love others as we love ourselves. We are to reconcile man to God, that is to share the Good News of the Gospel with the entire world. Likewise, we are to work towards reconciliation between ourselves and other humans.
We do this by many methods, but today’s post is concerned primarily with loving those who cannot take care of themselves by leaving them some of our harvest, that is some of our income as our work now reaps money instead of wheat or some other produce as it would have during the time that the Pentateuch was written.
We are called to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Do we not feed ourselves? If thirsty, don’t we get a glass of water? Don’t we put on clothes every day? Don’t we give ourselves medication when sick? Wouldn’t we visit our friends if we grew lonely? These things are the definition of loving ourselves! Should we not do these things for our neighbors?
With love for self clearly defined we can understand better what Jesus said in the horrific – and that is the right word – parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:
“Then [the King] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”(41-46)
If the Law was completed or abolished at the time of Jesus’ sacrifice then the goats would be right to be confused at Jesus’ condemnation! But the facts are plain: the Law holds no condemnation for believers, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the summation of it, namely, that we should love God and love each other. For by our willingness to follow these two commands we show that Jesus is indeed working within us – that we are truly His followers.
Leaving some of our harvest or income for the poor and needy is just one way to do that.
One final point. Consider why God asked the Jews to leave some of their harvest:
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.(Duet 24:18)
Wasn’t the redemption that Jesus offered us infinitely more than what He did for those in Egypt? Shouldn’t our response, then, toward God and our fellow man be infinitely more than the Jews were commanded?
In AshertopiA, we think so. That’s why we leave a little of our harvest for the poor.