God tells the Israelites in the Mosaic Law:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19.9–10; sim. in 23.22)
What characteristics of gleanings can we seek to replicate in our society, which is no longer primarily agrarian and rural?
- The owner of the field leaves unreaped some of what he put in his own labour to cultivate – and I am sure, because of what God says about the Sabbatical years (Dt. 15.7–10), that it is wrong for the owner to be lazy about the edges of the field merely because he doesn’t benefit directly from them.
- The law about gleanings is separate from the tithe to the Lord.
- Those who glean from the fields are anonymous, and only social pressure, not the owner of the field, can keep someone who is not actually poor from gleaning.
- The gleanings were for both poor Israelites and aliens.
Thus, we should have a predetermined amount forfeit and set aside as a minimum amount to give away, separate from any amount of money we decide to give to the Lord as a tithe, and we must not fixate our attention upon how those who benefit will only indulge their gluttony (or their “irresponsible” reproduction or their greed or whatever). We also cannot limit our giving to mostly believers to the neglect of the other people in our midst.
I believe it is essential to resolve this if we are not to neglect our responsibility to the poor and, ultimately, to God.