God’s Economy

We live in a world obsessed with making use of scraps and extras.

We try to eat all the food on our plates.  We take doggy bags home from restaurants.  Pinterest offers tips on how to “upcycle” items and make DIY crafts from every sort of remnant imaginable: used toilet paper rolls, coffee filters, fabric scraps.  Have a Parmesan rind?  Toss it into a pasta sauce for flavor! Extra vinegar or lemons sitting around?  Use them to clean the microwave!  We feed our leftover bread and biscuits to ducks and birds.

It’s good to use everything, we tell ourselves.  It’s frugal and conscientious.  And it is.

But I also can’t help thinking about God’s feelings on the matter.  In Deuteronomy 24:19-21, He makes them quite clear:

When you reap your harvest in the field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow… When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

He gives the commandment again in Leviticus 19:9-10 that the Israelites should not “gather to the corners of [their] field” and in Leviticus 23:22 that they should not “gather the gleaning of [their] harvest.” And lest anyone think that God’s attitude on this matter has changed, in Luke 18:22 Jesus informs a petitioner that in order to keep the commandments he must sell everything he has and give it to the poor before he follows Christ.

This sort of economy seems antithetical to the modern age we live in.  I and most people I know would run back to get the sheaf of forgotten wheat, would linger to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind. And if we found any scraps on the ground we’d ask Pinterest how to use them to make centerpieces. To us, this sort of act seems sensible, and yet it runs directly opposite the commands of God.  Leave the leftovers, He commands.  They’re not for you to use.

Certainly God requires we take care of our families and of our own finances, and to be a good steward of the resources He’s given us.  But beyond that, where do our leftovers go?  Do we keep every last scrap for ourselves?  And what strikes me most about God’s commandment here is that He doesn’t direct believers to give the leftovers to people but to simply leave them for whoever might stumble upon them.  We’re not to direct the flow of grace ourselves, but simply to make it available for anyone who might come along and find themselves in need.

In the book of Ruth we see how much this command matters when Boaz, in his effort to keep it, permits Ruth to glean from his fields.  Eventually Ruth and Boaz marry, and his simple choice permits them to become a part of a tapestry neither of them could have foreseen: their names are woven into the lineage of Christ Himself.  When you participate in God’s economy, you become one of His hands on earth, dispensing grace freely and without restraint – and you may never fully understand what it means for you to have done so, or the impact it might have.

And so I think of the ducks again, and why it’s so easy to save our scraps of bread to feed them.  We toss bread; they give entertainment. It’s a give-and-take in which we maintain control. But to simply leave our extras for others who might come along after us is a harder task.  We don’t know who they are, or what they’ll do with it.  We think about our giving and we analyze it.  And so often there’s a tendency to hold back, to wait for someone “worthy” to come along, to say “Oh, you’ll definitely make use of my scraps!  Not like that guy over there who will waste them.”

But that isn’t what God commands.  Take what you need for the day, He commands.  Leave the rest – to those who will come, and to Me.

Freely we have received, so let us find the strength to freely give.

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