It’s easy to get swept up in the busy of life, missing out on the precious life giving word of God, because, well, it’s more than there is not time, but not time sufficient to truly glean. And in that dry harvesting, you are still gleaning…but from whom?
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:22 NIV
This was the law given to the Israelites by God, in order to provide for the poor. This was the “welfare” system of the day. Harvesters were to purposefully leave the corners of the field untouched and not to glean the harvest. To glean is to gather grain or other material that is left after the main crop has been gathered.
Imagine a beautiful field of wheat. There are tall stalks of that golden dry color, soft when combing in the right direction. There are more stalks than can be counted that extend for what seems like decades, planted perfectly rowed, straight, with just the right amount of space for the harvesters. The air is crisp, fresh, it is early in the morning. The sun peaks over the horizon, radiating sharp beauty above. There are many there, working, their hands calloused from the repetitive motion that is their livelihood, that livelihood that fills their bellies and calls them back for more. Then, there are those on the periphery, waiting, even that early, for what is left when the good harvest complete, gathered in tightly bound bounty, ready for the thresh.
The threshing floor is that place, where the edible part of the grain is then separated even further – from the inedible chaff that surrounds it. The people of old would stamp this grain on cobble stone, firmly pounded dirt or tightly fitted and well-worn wood while using a “flail.” This flail was made from two or more large sticks attached by a short chain, one stick held and swung, causing the other to strike the pile of grain, loosening the husks. This prepared the harvest for winnowing, where the broken stalks of grain were collected and thrown in the air with a winnowing fork or fan, resulting only in the heavy,best grain falling at the harvester’s feet to be cleaned for consumption.
Quite a process of preparing a plentiful and hearty harvest…and it makes me imagine, what could possibly be left for those on the periphery? Those who beg permission to pick up the scraps, the leftovers, the seconds…And would what they glean be of any good value?
I actually have seen what is left in a sweet potato field that was prepared for this exact practice. Stan and I took our kids gleaning one Saturday morning about 2 years ago. The field appeared plowed and ready for a dormant part of the life cycle of a farm field. However, we set out to collect sweet potatoes we were told existed in leftover excess for the food bank of North Carolina. These vegetable fields had been harvested by sophisticated machinery of our day that would in theory, pick up more than human hands. That day, we gathered over 500 pounds of sweet potatoes for the people of our community in need. All leftovers.
Oh, how it brings light to my heart as I identify this practice with the story of Ruth.
Ruth and Naomi made plans, plans after destruction, of loss, of admitted bitterness – for a better life. You see, Naomi had left Bethlehem a married woman with 2 sons, one who married Ruth. All three of those men died, which the bible does not expand on except to say there was a severe famine. Though Naomi was so bitter about her plight that she asked to be called by a different name, she did still rely on God and His direction for her future. Thus, she and Ruth traveled back to Bethlehem, at the time of the barley harvest, knowing that because Ruth was a widow, she would have an opportunity to glean in these fields of plenty. Naomi planned this travel wisely. And, she trusted God, who certainly had a hand in guiding Ruth to Boaz’s field…
Ruth 2 tells the story of Ruth “finding herself” in Boaz’s field, who just “happened” to be one in Ruth and Naomi’s circle of covenant redeemers, Ruth’s father-in-law’s relative. He was one of their family’s kinsman-redeemers, a relative who has the ability to restore or preserve the full community rights of disadvantaged family members, of which, Ruth and Naomi, certainly fit the bill.
The story then unfolds as Boaz greets all of his harvesters and subsequently, his gleaners, shouting blessings of “God be with you!” Ruth apparently stood out to him and he asked his farm hands who she was and where she came from. The foreman explained that she was the one, the one who had traveled with her mother-in-law, Naomi, from Moab. The foreman went on to explain that she had gone about all of the proper etiquette in asking permission to glean in his field and that she was sure a hard worker.
“Then Boaz spoke to Ruth: “Listen, my daughter. From now on don’t go to any other field to glean—stay right here in this one. And stay close to my young women. Watch where they are harvesting and follow them. And don’t worry about a thing; I’ve given orders to my servants not to harass you. When you get thirsty, feel free to go and drink from the water buckets that the servants have filled.” She dropped to her knees, then bowed her face to the ground. “How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner?” Boaz answered her, “I’ve heard all about you—heard about the way you treated your mother-in-law after the death of her husband, and how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers. God reward you well for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from God, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.” She said, “Oh sir, such grace, such kindness—I don’t deserve it. You’ve touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don’t even belong here!” At the lunch break, Boaz said to her, “Come over here; eat some bread. Dip it in the wine.” So she joined the harvesters. Boaz passed the roasted grain to her. She ate her fill and even had some left over. When she got up to go back to work, Boaz ordered his servants: “Let her glean where there’s still plenty of grain on the ground—make it easy for her. Better yet, pull some of the good stuff out and leave it for her to glean. Give her special treatment.” Ruth 2:8-16
Give her special treatment? Why? Because Boaz noticed Ruth for her kindness, her devotion and her character displayed in staying by her widowed mother-in-law’s side through the darkest of times. Oh, how he saw her right hand work!!
In general, Boaz took the time to care for those less well off, less politically important, less noticed and less flashy. He also was an upright man, taking the time to gather in the middle of the town with the chief officials to approach the man who was first in line to be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer. This man turned down the offer to purchase the land that went along with the dowry of Ruth, they traded sandals (the contract of the day), then Boaz took Ruth as his wife, in good clear conscious. He took on the role of her kindman-redeemer, they had a son, Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was he father of David, an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Boaz was the kind of person whose field I want to glean in…
But, whose fields do I choose to glean in? Am I being choosy in whose leftovers I am feasting on? What are they even harvesting? And do I believe in the tools they are using to thresh and winnow? How do I know how and when it is time to find a new field? How do I find the Boaz’s of life?
This is such a hard topic for me. What brought me to this space, this right hand work, that I do, that I feel called to and embody, often in my career of nursing, does not feel as though it has a place where it is good to glean. Sure, there are good people – and lots of them – in the field, I turn to the left and to the right and I see them. I see them working alongside me, putting in the hours, the phone calls and the literal sweat and tears. I see them picking up the grain left behind, packing it away for later, keeping focus on the sun that will eventually go down and enable our bodies to rest. I also see and hear some gathering the first fruits, taking them for threshing and winnowing and I do glean insights, arts of practice, bits of wisdom. I choose these, these colleagues, these harvesters, fellow gleaners…but where are the Boaz’s who own the fields, those who are planting the seeds to create the harvests? And, what do they consider a harvest?
Little by little we glean from the field of harvest we choose. In the beginning, it may not seem a big deal to gather some spoiled first fruits fallen behind, a few sharp thorns, a couple weeds…but, when all combined, what do we have to munch on, to feed our bodies and minds? It may look like a tangled mess of straggly weeds, mold, fungi and rot…so biting when it goes down.
But be encouraged! We do not have to consume this yuck! We have a field available to us that is always good for gleaning…just as Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, so is Jesus ours…
There is one who is always there, offering to be the great seed planter, harvest producer, master gardener. The one who is always just, always provides, always looks for us in the quiet corners, the hidden places…looks for us when we are so broken, so tired, so tainted, so discouraged. He looks for us, seeks us out, He invites us into the barn with this harvesters, to drink his best wine, to share in the breaking of His bread. He says, “Let her glean where there’s still plenty of grain on the ground—make it easy for her. Better yet, pull some of the good stuff out and leave it for her to glean. Give her special treatment.” Ruth 2:15-16
“Give her special treatment”…feast on that.
Feast on the truth that Jesus is our redeemer, our kinsman-redeemer! We DO have a Boaz! We have an even-better-than-Boaz! No matter what the earthly field looks like, no matter the evil that is certainly there, no matter the smatterings of criticisms, bullying and condescending tones, insults…name yours…Jesus is our true field keeper. He knows what we need for each day and he provides it. He gives us just enough for each day in the gleaning…when we glean from His word, His field.
Jesus wants to give you special treatment. He wants you to be called out for your good deeds, your lifting up of others, your devotion to your calling! It is in His word, it is among His people, it is in His field. We just have to keep our eyes focused on His word, His plans and His voice among the many who compete for the glory that is His alone. In the end, we know our field keeper’s voice, we know it is good, we hear him saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant…” And we have to believe it.
Choose your field to glean wisely. Though there are many fields, there is only one true field of Jesus’s, our one and only, kinsman-redeemer. Let him give you that sweet special treatment…simply because you are His.