Scripture: “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.” Deuteronomy 23:24-25 ESV
Observation: The above verses, as theologian Daniel Block outlines, bring to an end Moses’ array of instructions centered on safeguarding the community:
- Rights of refugees (vv.15-16)
- Sanctity of worship (vv.17-18)
- Economic health (vv.19-20)
- Promises/Vows (vv.21-23)
- The Trust of Neighbors (vv.24-25)
In the above text, Moses builds on an early command directed at the landowner to show kindness and mercy to the sojourning poor and foreigner by leaving the edges of their crops for sustenance (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22). Here, Moses instructs passers-by to take only what they presently need from their neighbor. But their “neighbor’ is not limited to immediate proximity since all the Promised Land belongs to the nation, nor is it limited to familiarity, given all God’s people share a common ancestry through the seed of Abraham. Moses’ directive is broad in scope and intended to build trust among all the nation and its guests.
Takeaway: We see a beautiful example of this give-and-take dynamic that builds trust in the community through the story of Ruth. Having endured famine and the loss of husbands, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, return to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Desperate for food, Naomi instructs Ruth to go and seek permission to glean from the edges of her kinsman-redeemer’s, Boaz’s, field. Taking notice of her modesty and hard work, Boaz urges Ruth to eat until she is satisfied and to take a generous share to her mother-in-law. Remarkably, this story of restoration and romance results in a foreigner entering King David’s and Christ’s ancestral line because both sides adhered to the Levitical law.
So what does this law look like for us in a non-agrarian society where neighbors are scarcely known? As Daniel Block states, “The significance… is self-evident. God’s people will be compassionate and generous in sharing their resources with others, but they will also be respectful and grateful when they are beneficiaries of that generosity” (NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy). To put the wheels on this two-way street, we need to create opportunities to help the disadvantaged to help themselves and learn gratitude.
While pastoring in Pittsburgh, I led several teams from my congregation to an inner-city outreach that fed the homeless. Many struggled with addictions and mental illness. A few would not only show ungratefulness but would jump to the front of the line with a bag in hand and shovel as much food as possible into their bag. If we intervened, some would spew insults and become aggressive. It would be easy to write them off, but these are desperate people in survival mode. We would do them and us a disservice to turn them away or turn a blind eye to their behavior. For as much as we serve the least of these, we serve Christ. So, in addition to creating opportunities for others to help themselves, we must come alongside them and humbly teach them the blessings of trusting in our God, who works through us to meet each other needs. For when both sides are grateful for God’s bountiful provisions, we will not only find blessings in giving but in receiving.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the gift of your Son and the salvation we have received by faith in him. And we thank you for how you care for us, your children, through the community of believers. Would you please help us to build trust in you within our spheres of influence that will foster generosity and gratitude toward the needs of all concerned? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling