20 September 2020 (Pastoral Page) PRACTISING GLEANING IN TODAY’S SOCIETY

By Asst Ps Gift Daniel

"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…..You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:9-10)

Since the start of the pandemic, I have been in touch with several of our overseas ministry partners whose communities are severely affected and with our members who are willing to help these partners. I am heartened by the generosity of our members. This pandemic and such giving made me rethink the above Old Testament (OT) passage on gleaning. Let me share with you what gleaning entailed during the OT times and how it applies to us today.

The Practice of Gleaning in OT Times

In short, the above verse means that the gleanings in the corners of the fields and the fallen grapes were to be left for the poor and the migrants. Note the following points on harvesting in OT times. First, the landowners were to leave the margins of their grain fields unharvested. Second, they were not to pick up whatever produce fell on the ground. This also applied to grapes that fell from a cluster cut from the vine. Third, they were to harvest their vineyards just once, taking only the ripe grapes and leaving the later ripening for the poor and the migrants living among them. This comes in a socio-economic context where the poor and the migrants did not own land, thus making them dependent solely on manual labour for their food. This regulation of Israel also extended to the resident foreigners living among them.

Every field had its edges and gleanings regardless of its size. Therefore, every farmer had this obligation to remember the poor and the migrants during harvest time. The poorest Israelite or migrant should never have had to worry about survival if the laws were followed. Every Israelite farmer had a choice to make whenever he harvested a field: should he maximise his profit or remember the poor, and not thereby steal what God had allocated to them?

This idea is reinforced in verse 11: “Do not steal”, which is followed by instructions that reflect the Ten Commandments. OT landowners were supposed to practise this because God said: “I am the Lord your God”. It is interesting to note that the OT instructions on tithing and gleaning were given to the nation of Israel almost at the same period. Both (tithing and gleaning) are expressions of giving: one unto the Lord and the other unto the poor.

Application of the Principle of Gleaning in our Times

In contemporary Singapore, it may not be easy to discern how to apply the principles of gleaning as mentioned in Leviticus 19. After all, Singapore today has no grain fields; none of us work as farmers. And yet, the principle of letting others glean from us may still be applied in today’s society.

What used to be farmlands and grain fields (and perhaps fishing villages) are now offices, schools and businesses to many of us. Our harvest is our income from our hard labour. It is God who gives us the strength to work and He is our real source of income. Therefore, we tithe, giving a part of what belongs to Him. But what about gleaning? How may we take care of the poor and the migrant workers among us today? The parallels between their situation and those in OT times are obvious. In Singapore, the average migrant worker is unable to own a piece of land or an HDB apartment. Most of the workers are manual labourers who work for Singaporean employers or for the benefit of Singaporeans. Like those in the OT period, today’s migrant workers also rely to some extent on our acts of compassion and fairness, as do the poor and the needy living in other countries (to widen the context). As part of Christian living, just as we tithe unto the Lord, should we not also give to the poor? After all both (tithing and gleaning) originate from the OT instructions to Israel.

In the New Testament period, giving unto the Lord is seen more as a cheerful and sacrificial act