It wasn’t too long ago when farmers set aside the very edges of their fields from harvest so that the poor would have something to gather.
Okay, it was a long, long time ago.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:9-10)
That was the teaching on gleaning. The idea that God has blessed us with a harvest, and we should leave behind something for the poor. The gleanings of our harvest.
It was around the same time that we learned the teaching of tithing, where we give to the Lord one-tenth of our harvest, the first fruits as offerings to Yahweh for the blessings He has given us.
"Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’S; it is holy to the LORD.” (Lev 27:30)
For a farmer, not only does one-tenth belong to the Lord; the very edges of the fields are left for the poor. They were both important parts of any harvest in the days of old.
Tithing and Gleaning. Both underscore the act of giving: one unto the Lord, and the other, unto the poor. Both were intended to teach the children of Israel what it meant to live: one an act of worship and the other, of charity.
What used to be farms and vineyards are now - for many of us - offices and businesses. The planting and toiling on the land are now our equivalent of typing, loading, creating and the work we do daily. Our harvest is now our salaries, our bonuses, our profits and our rewards. While the world has evolved over millennia, the basic tenets of toil and reward, sowing and harvesting remain the same today. And from that harvest, we tithe and we give.
From the days of old till now, tithing remains a core part of our practice of faith, but what of charity? What of gleaning? It sometimes feels that while tithing is our Christian duty, part of our faith and our act of worship in church, gleaning can be someone else’s responsibility. I often think that our Lord Jesus was not kidding when He said in Mark 14:7 that “you always have the poor with you”. This has challenged me in many ways.
Having spent now two decades in the nonprofit world, I can say with confidence that no matter how technologically advanced, socially innovative or how rich per capita we might be as a nation or as a people, there are and will always be people who are in need.
It is heartening to know that there are many who do stand in the gap, creating and giving to the poor and needy. This has been especially true during the COVID-19 crisis, when I’ve seen so many Singaporeans rise up to play their part.
In my role now at The Majurity Trust, we launched the SG Strong Fund (sgstrong.sg) with 10 generous donors giving a total of S$550,000 to support ground-up initiatives. From the early days of COVID-19 until now, we’ve funded over 140 projects that were started and implemented by people who simply want to do their little bit in response to the crisis. These 140 projects represent over 3000 volunteers on the ground reaching over 50,000 beneficiaries.
The elderly received care kits and children got play kits during the holidays. Hawkers provided free food to healthcare workers. Taxi drivers fetched volunteers to foreign worker dormitories to help conduct sanitation workshops and provide hygiene packs. Every project is an inspiration for others to do more.
We have also seen churches and businesses opening their doors to the homeless, and providing accommodation to stranded Malaysian workers because their country entered into lockdown.
Recently, a church friend called my cell group because he had a heart for the Malaysian workers. A few of my cell mates volunteered to comb Pasir Ris beach in the night to locate those sleeping outdoors. The solution? To find a place for them to stay during the next couple of weeks. There was no meticulous organisation, no well-planned strategies - they simply responded to a call for help. This was just a few Christian brothers wanting to do something for those in need. And they are not alone.
The giving of every single dollar, the performing of every single task, and the rendering of every single minute of volunteerism provide opportunities for gleaning. These are our modern equivalents of the edges of our fields.
Tithing and gleaning are both taught in Leviticus. So, worship and charity must be part of our Christian duty.
Let it not be thought that tithing is a personal duty but charity is someone else’s duty. After all, our first fruits and our allowance for gleaning come from the same field.
Martin Tan is the Executive Director of The Majurity Trust (majurity.sg) and has spent his waking moments these past few months wondering when Our Lord Jesus Christ will return and when Liverpool Football Club will win the Premier League.