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Reapers and Gleaners — Deuteronomy 24:19-22, Mark 12:41-44.

“WHEN YOU REAP YOUR HARVEST in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow….You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 24:19, 22). Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in…everything she had” (Mark 12:41-44).

Israel’s sabbaticals, jubilees, third-year tithes, and laws of gleaning were intended so that grace would not be hoarded. The sojourner, the orphan, the widow—the defenseless poor—by divine law were protected against laws of supply and demand, which invariably reward those who control the supplies and who make demands for themselves exceeding the most generous limits of need.

God objects: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev. 25:23). And, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge; but you shall remember that you were a slave…” (Deut. 24:17- 18).

Jesus gazed at streams of the faithful and the rich (not to be confused) placing their tithes in holy coffers. He glimpsed this poor woman casting in the least amount possible, two halfpenny coppers. And he said they added up to the greatest amount possible, everything she had. She had nothing left over! What she had gleaned from reapers she gave to be reaped again, “devoured” as Luke has it (Luke 20:47), by wealthy plutocrats who were direct beneficiaries of all the gifts deposited publicly.

In the quiet fashion of her poverty the woman was beheld by Jesus and commended as a steward of grace and truth. Was it not Jesus also who gave everything and “emptied himself” so that in the abundance of his poverty we should be made rich?

When we taste the “leftovers,” when we have only morsels of the world’s bread before us to remind us that there are worse forms of bondage than to be without bread, then we come to that moment of truth when we know that as God’s reapers or gleaners we can never simply reap or glean God’s fruits for ourselves only. We are never too poor to share what was not ours to begin with, but God’s! Yet we may sometimes be too rich to share it.

And the church? Is the church ever so wretchedly poor as when it reaps only for itself, and so abundantly rich as when it gleans for others?

If it belongs to Christ, the church is among “the leftovers.” There is nothing more shockingly extravagant to the world than when the church gleans for others, for it contrasts with the pitiful greed the world reaps when it stockpiles for itself.

The Reaper after Millet by Vincent van Gogh, 1889
COPYRIGHT © 2023 (1982)  CHARLES DAVIDSON, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BIBLICAL QUOTATIONS FROM THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION (RSV), 1952
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “BIBLICAL INSIGHTS FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION SHARED APPROACHES, VOL. IV, COURSE 3, APRIL 1982