And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.” (Ruth 2:15)
We often think of charity as optional. It is something we do because we want to. We are free to do it or not. Nice people give some things away. Some people who aren’t as nice may not. We all like to think of ourselves as being generous and charity is one place we can make it happen. In the end, a charitable act makes us feel good about ourselves and we hope it does some good for someone else as well.
The Bible is less built on charity than we may think. The practice of gleaning (allowing people to come into your fields and gathering up grain left behind) was part of the law. Landowners were required to allow the poor onto their land to find food during the harvest. They were required to not pick over the crops too closely. This was not charity but a social expectation. Care of the poor was the legal responsibility of those who were not poor.
In our society, we have a mix of ways that we care for the poor. We use shared things with programs like Medicaid and Food Stamps. These are ways that people with means put in to a central spot and then it is used to provide for people who lack food, health care, housing, etc. These can be controversial – many people would prefer to cut these things. But they are the difference between life and death for some in our society and the biblical model seems to think we ALL share some responsibility to be sure the least among us are not forgotten.
The text from Ruth at the top of this post is about Boaz’s responsibility as a landowner to provide for the poor. In this case, Ruth is among the people who are gleaning food from his land. He is doing the right thing – perhaps not because he wants to but because he has to.
But we also see in this story that he does seem to truly be glad to be useful for people in need. In fact, he takes an extra interest in Ruth and makes sure that his workers don’t do anything to make her work hard or to intimidate or harass her in any way. In addition to what he has to do, Boaz goes the extra mile to do more than is required.
This is a good model for followers of Jesus. We participate gladly in the social responsibility that belongs to all people as being a part of a society that still has the poor among us. But we also go beyond that by advocating for the rights of the poor, standing with them as they find their way through life with fewer resources than they need, and share generously of our time, talent and treasure to do more than is required. It is the way of Jesus. And it is our way as well.