When we think of offerings and charity for others, we think mainly of money or food or items to give to those who are without. But the Bible itself does not only include this aspect of giving but also a sort of charity that requires those with land and resources to give access to the poor and foreigners to food, but that also requires the poor and foreigners to work for it. This type of offering is not one we often think about, but today I would like to talk about it, because this type of offering is closely connected to the festival of Pentecost that we celebrate today.
You Shall Not Wholly Reap The Corners Of Your Field
At the end of talking about the Feast of Weeks in Leviticus 23, the Bible makes an interesting comment adding a law at the end. Let us turn there today, in Leviticus 23:22. Leviticus 23:22 gives a law that requires a specific sort of offering to the poor and needy among believers. It reads: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger; I am the Lord your God.” This is an unusual law. What does allowing gleaning for the poor have to do with the Feast of Weeks?
Well, there are several connections. For one, the Feast of Weeks was celebrated during the wheat harvest in Israel. While the people of Thailand are primarily rice eaters, the people of Israel ate wheat and barley as their staple crops, and we in the West are also primarily bread eaters (bread being made out of wheat flour) instead of rice eaters. But the same laws that apply to wheat fields here in Pentecost would also apply to the other main staple food crops of the world like corn, rice, and soybeans. The same law applies—a landowner is forbidden from trying to fully take advantage of his field because God and not he is ultimately the owner of the land. And it is God’s command that the poor and foreigners, who owned no land, had the opportunity to glean the wheat or other crops that were left by the harvesters as well as harvest the corners of the fields. This requirement allowed the poor and foreigners to work for their own food so that they could have opportunities to get enough to eat through their own labor. It is a sin to deny someone else the opportunity to work because you want to hoard resources for yourself. We are commanded to be generous in offering others the opportunities to labor.
There is another connection between this law and Pentecost, and we find this connection in the book of Ruth. Let us turn there, to Ruth 2:5-13. Ruth 2:5-13 reads: “Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of his reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.” Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Then she said, “Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
Here we see that Ruth, a foreigner in the land of Judah as a Moabite young woman, asked to glean in the field of Boaz, and Boaz not only let her glean, but considered her as part of his own workforce, intentionally leaving food for her to pick up while gleaning, so that she and her mother-in-law Naomi could have enough to eat. And both Ruth and Boaz received a full reward for their obedience to God. Ruth later proposed marriage to Boaz and had a son named Obed, who became the grandfather of David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Because of the hard work of Ruth and the generosity of Boaz, both of them were richly blessed with a long and happy life together. Not coincidentally, the book of Ruth is read by Jews at the time of Pentecost, and also not coincidentally, the same law here that required landowners to give the opportunity for strangers (like Ruth) and the poor (like Ruth) to work was also related to Pentecost.
Because No One Hired Us
We see in Matthew 20:1-10 a spiritual element to this law as well, so let us turn there for our last scripture for this message. Matthew 20:1-10 is the first part of the Parable of the Generous Landowner, and it refers to the same generosity in providing labor required by God’s law. It reads: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.”
Let us notice a few aspects of this passage. For one, the landowner was exceptionally generous here. The field is a symbol of the spiritual work of the Church of God. Some people were hired bright and early at 6:00AM, some at 9:00AM, some at noon, some at 3:00PM, and others at 5:00PM, when the day was nearly done. All of them received the same wages, of eternal life, even though some of those who had worked longer complained about the unfairness of God being generous to those who had worked for such a short time. But the field belongs to God and He can be generous to whomever He pleases. We also see here two other elements. One, God is fulfilling His commandment to be generous with opportunities to serve. Just as God is generous in giving opportunities for brethren to serve in the work of God’s Church, so we ought to be generous in providing opportunities for others to serve the brethren. Also, let us note that the landowner was obeying God’s law to pay wages promptly at the end of each day, a law about farm work that is often forgotten, and that can be found in Deuteronomy 24:15, if you wish to read it for yourself.
What does all this mean? Our offerings and generosity are not only with our material goods, with our money or our food or clothing, but also with opportunities to serve and labor. We are commanded not to hoard our resources for ourselves, but to give others the opportunity to labor for their own food. The full rewards and opportunities to labor for one’s own bread are commanded by God to be given as part of the Feast of Weeks that we celebrate today. Whether we are landowners or laborers, let us make sure both to diligently work for however long God has called us to do so, and let us make sure we do not deny the opportunity of others to labor for their own bread, so that we all may have the opportunity to serve God as He wishes and be hardworking and faithful children of God. For that is a special offering commanded by God for the Feast of Pentecost.