Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Living marginally

I am continuing to read through Joshua-Judges and Ruth with John Goldingay as guide. I was reading in Ruth today which is a story I have not read very often. It is a good one. Ruth, as you know, was not a Jew; she was from Moab, a country with hostile relations with Jews. She had married an Israelite whose family had come to Moab to escape the famine in their homeland. Then, her husband died, as well as his brother and her father-in-law. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had lost her husband and both sons. She was destitute and her only choice was to go back to her kin and hope for some kindness and mercy from them. She released her daughters-in-law to remain in their homeland. But, Ruth chose to go with her. It was a hard choice. The journey was going to be rough and there was not much hope for their future. When they arrived in Bethlehem it was the time of the barley harvest. Old Testament law provided for a way for the poor in the community to at least have some food to eat. It was called gleaning and it meant that the farmers were not to harvest so efficiently that there was no waste. They were supposed to leave some grain on the margins of their fields for those who we would call "food insecure" today. The poor or temporarily disadvantaged were permitted to glean from fields which were not their own. The Old Testament recognized that there would always be people without enough and people with enough and it provided a way to bring some balance between the two.

There was a story in today's Florida Times Union newspaper about small farmers in the area. Florida is a big agricultural state but most of the farms are considered small, less than 200 acres. It is not easy for small farms to make it. Their margins for profit are small, too. One farmer said that she had to plow under 30 acres of squash this year because squash prices were so low it wasn't practical to pick and ship  the crop. She said, she wished she could have let people come and pick it but the threat of potential lawsuits made that impossible. Exactly the opposite of Old Testament laws which made this type of gleaning possible.

In our culture efficiency is prized and rewarded with higher profits. People are laid off or fired if the profit margins get too small. It is a radical idea to leave the margins for someone else who may need it. There have been stories in the paper about organizations like Second Harvest who are able to take what might be thrown out by supermarkets or restaurants and recycle those foods to those in need. These are the modern examples of gleaners. We need to support groups like these. But, I wonder how we can leave margins in our lives to help others. Are there inefficiencies we want to build into our lives so others are helped. Is there some "time"we don't manage so well- so it can be used to help someone else? Is there some money -leftover- that is available to meet some "unplanned for need" in someone's life? Do we have some unused food around that could regularly be dropped off at the closest food bank? In the Old Testament, living so that people on the margins might live too, was a way of life. Can we live marginally, as well?