This morning I came downstairs around 7 am and looked outside. There, in front of my house, was someone sifting through my recycle bin that was waiting to be picked up and emptied. My first inclination was how could someone be stealing my recycling! It’s MY recycling!
Then I watched.
There were two people going house to house sifting through recycle bins looking for bottles and milk jugs – the things we pay deposits on. They had two large bags going. They were up early and working hard. They were working hard… gleaning.
The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that for everything there is a season. Perhaps there is a season for gleaning as well. Gleaning is the practice of going over fields and picking the leftovers. Scripture actually gives a big place to gleaning. In Israel it was a part of the law given by God.
“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. 10 It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.” – Lev 19:9-10
I’m not sure we really understand the significance of gleaning in our culture. Yet my encounter this morning reminded me of this passage in Leviticus. It also reminds me of the story of Ruth – the reality is gleaning is a large part of what gets the story in Ruth moving forward (see Ruth 2).
Biblically, gleaning was to be left for those in need. It was a way of society providing for those who needed help. It also allowed them the dignity of working for their food and not just having handouts given.
That is what the people in front of my house were doing. They were gleaning. Looking for the leftovers left behind. They woke up early, started work early and worked hard. As I watched them I recognized that I unwittingly had fulfilled the Biblical mandate to not be greedy and keep every bit of harvest for me. We had left bottles in our recycle bin. We had left milk jugs. Our field of a recycle bin was primed and ready to be gleaned… and gleaned it was.
I realize gleaning is a dance between the provider who leaves behind things and the person working to gather what was left. In my case, I’m not sure who benefited more – me or them. You see I was reminded of needs in my community. I was reminded that the poor do work hard. I was reminded that I have a part to play in addressing needs in my community. I was reminded that the one gleaning is no different than you or I. After all, perhaps someday -I pray not — it may be my season to glean.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what are other modern ways that we can support gleaning in our community?