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For the Good of Our Communities: Gleaning in the 21st Century

By Deacon Lauri Moyle, Community Chaplain with Anglican Church of the Redeemer, Chattanooga, TN and founder of Thankful Gleaner, a social enterprise helping businesses connect with those in need. As a Community Chaplain, Deacon Lauri seeks the welfare of both the congregation and the city – participating in public arenas, offering counsel to the community, and connecting businesses with the mission of the Church.

 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” – Ruth 2:15-16

Profit Over People

My life started in central and eastern Europe, in the twilight years of the Iron Curtain. I saw the failure of the great Marxist experiment. I saw the breakdown of one system and the rushing in of hyper-capitalism. Some of it was illegal, driven by corruption and the mafia. Some of it was legitimate business.

When my parents left, after I had graduated college here in the U.S., my hometown Bratislava was an absolute joy to visit. Businesses all over the city where thriving. Old buildings had been restored from crumbling facades to light and vibrant structures. Investment and people returning home from the West led to a world class start-up and tech scene.

But what also happened is the slow erosion of close-knit extended family. They had used non-market means and logic to survive when the state failed them: It seems that profit trumped relationship. I wonder if the marketisation and commodification of pretty much anything – including relationships – has also affected the U.S. church?

The Welfare of the City

Jeremiah 27:9 says, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” I don’t think that God means to say that you will prosper financially, though that might be a byproduct. But if the city prospers, I am sure you will reap the benefits. How then do we practice generosity in seeking the welfare of the city?

In the book of Ruth, we read about Boaz being the faithful businessman that he was, applying the principles of gleaning laid out by Levitical law. Boaz let Ruth gather the crops after his harvesters had taken what they could. She had to work to keep what she gleaned. It was not a free hand out, but she gathered the food and was able to feed herself and her mother-in-law. But Boaz, being the devout Israelite, did more. He told his work crew to supplement what they left behind. He was generous beyond what was required by law.

Finally – and this is where the story of Ruth and Boaz takes on Christological meaning – Boaz became a kinsman redeemer and married Ruth. This image is evocative for me personally because I have a Finnish mother, a British father, and am married to an American. Modern nation-states are not like the tribal states in the Old Testament, but the fact that Ruth the Moabite (who was faithful to our Lord) was grafted into Jesus’ family tree – through the gift of Boaz, consenting willingly to be her kinsman redeemer – is heartening to me. The bride of Christ, after all, is made up of every tongue and people group. Here we see a pattern of redemption and love.

Increasingly, being a Community Chaplain has meant that God is calling me to help business owners and others connect with these principles of gleaning as applied to a 21st century marketplace. What does this look like in practice?

Taking the Long View

The principles of gleaning were based in part on the idea that the landowner is a steward of the land: He was not to dominate the land, but to have dominion over it. Domination would suck the land dry (total efficiency for the short-run); but being a good steward in dominion allowed others to glean, and that which fell by the way replenished the nutrients in the earth (long-term economic thinking). We give out of a generous spirit because we have been given much in Christ, but also because we recognize that we are not our own – and that which we have is also not ours.

Put more personally: We can be generous with our money, but what about being generous with our time and our reputation? Risking your reputation for the sake of another is sharing your social and reputational capital. A clergy member might have the opportunity to ask a business owner in the congregation if they can take on somebody who needs work: That’s risking their reputation on behalf of the worker. What if that worker fails to follow through with the business owner… who is responsible? Perhaps it’s the worker. But what if it is also the responsibility – out of a generous spirit – for the business owner to be generous with their time and reputation, to steward the failed employee into the appropriate work ethic that is needed in the business. Maybe gleaning in the 21st century means to take a longer view, and leave total efficiency behind.

This is to be generous with relational and social capital (and it might cost money and time). Perhaps this sort of thinking is what a hyper-capitalist system needs to thrive. Perhaps market forces need to be tamed by relationships, which in the end shaped how Boaz took on Ruth, and how a Moabite became part of the generational line into which Jesus was born – our Savior and our Lord.