31 Jul 2007

The Gleaning Principle

Submitted by Paul Brown

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. (Deut. 24:19-21)

In the Mosaic Law, God made provision for the care of the poor in (at least) two ways: One was a triennial dedication of the year's tithe to be used for meeting the needs of the Levites and the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). The other was the allowance for gleaning, outlined in the passage above. In Sharing God's Heart for the Poor, Amy Sherman points out the two-fold responsibility of the gleaning principle (and I quote):

  1. Resource owners (in this case, farmers) have a responsibility to eschew greed and make available to others the opportunity for them to meet their needs. They are to be generous with what produce they have.
  2. The poor (if able-bodied) have a responsibility to take some initiative and work to meet their own needs. This avoids the cultivation of a dependency mindset and offers the needy person the dignity of earning his sustenance instead of passively receiving a handout. Gleaning gives the poor the opportunity to meet their own needs through their own application of labor.

The question I've been mulling over is this: How can I, as an electrical power systems engineer in 21st Century America, apply this principle to benefit the poor in my community? If I were in charge of my own company someday, how could I operate the business so that it provides an opportunity for a kind of gleaning? One thing I see in looking at the two-fold responsibility is that it may be valuable to create jobs suitable for the poor even if it is not the most profitable thing for me to do. It might mean encouraging and sponsoring employees (drafters, for example) to receive additional training and equip them for upward mobility in their careers, or taking on interns from schools in poor areas and teaching them some trade skills. As a consumer, it may mean paying someone to repair something that I own, even if replacing it at a low-cost retailer might be cheaper. (I had one of my guitars repaired, partially for this reason, a few weeks ago.)

Giving is a good thing; this was also one of the provisions for the poor made in the Law. It's the easiest place to start, and to be honest, that's where I'm at right now. If you need a suggestion of a good ministry to get involved with, Compassion International (linked from my sidebar for a long time now) would be one excellent place to begin. As we grow, though, I think we need to take seriously our roles as contributors to our economy and think about how we can move beyond mere giving toward application of the gleaning principle.

Your turn: In what ways have you seen people use the gleaning principle to benefit the less fortunate? What ideas do you have for your own situation--or for mine?


I have a longstanding dream of owning at least one, and possibly multiple, laundromats or some other such service locations. My thought has always been to use the existing organizations such as Open Door Ministries or the Denver Rescue Mission as the primary resource for finding employees. As you indicated, it may mean investing more in training, encouragement, time, etc., but I believe the the value-added benefit to the person would absolutely justify the investment.

That is a great idea!

Great questions, Paul. I particularly like the principles of leaving some of whatever we produce behind and allowing others to glean from it. A much more mature paradigm than just "throwing money" at a problem. I think (in order to truly do this from the heart) that one would need to understand that nothing we "own" is really ours anyway.

I will be pondering this...

In the past few years I have picked up a desire and talent for sewing. Although it is not a money-making business for me it is something that I truly enjoy doing and has been beneficial to me in many last minute clothing situations! It has also given me the chance to help others out. Last year my sister Melody was in a friends wedding. When she had to get her dress altered the seamstress's price was astronomically high for just a simple three inch hem around the bottom of the skirt! It made me sick to my stomach. Whenever I have friends, especially the ones in college like myself, that need repairs done I try to help them out. I feel that it is robbery when other seamstresses charge so much money for such simple things. It definitely doesn't cost $100 plus dollars to make a hem. This past May my gift to two a good friend for her wedding was altering the bridesmaids dresses. I felt very much at peace believing that I saved her (and her ladies) time and money. I wonder if this could be turned into an opportunity for gleaning as you discussed.