From the Margins

Serving others requires us to give, but that doesn’t mean it has to hurt.

I am a marginal gardener, and by this you might think I mean that my contribution to the world’s food production is negligible. That may be true. But actually, I mean “marginal” quite literally: I grow food in the margins of my yard.

“I share the space with other creatures, too.”

In the loamy dirt along our privacy fence or next to the house—areas where others might plant shrubs or hostas—I grow tomatoes, kale, lettuce, and herbs. I share the space with other creatures, too. Wild rabbits, North American red squirrels, cardinals, honey bees, squash vine borers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, tomato hornworms, and others serve variously as co-laborers, observers, and nemeses.

This is not my mother’s garden. Growing up, we had a large plot of land tilled and fertilized for rows of corn, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, squash, okra, and more. But in the urban and suburban homes I’ve lived in as an adult, large blocks of tillable land were a luxury I couldn’t afford. Instead, I’ve gardened in whatever space I could find.

“Farmers were instructed to leave the grain or fruit grown in the outside rows of the field.”

As it turns out, God also had a plan for food grown along the edges. In ancient Israel, farmers were instructed to leave the grain or fruit grown in the outside rows of the field as a kind of tithe or stewardship, not to the temple but to the community. “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest,” God instructed through Moses. “Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger” (Lev. 19:9-10). In other words, leave the margins for the marginalized.

Of course, doing so also served as a stewardship to the land and to other creatures. The uncut stems and fallen grain provided habitat and nourishment to both as the margins of the fields bumped against the margins of the wild. But mostly, this law mandated a way for Israel to care for others without neglecting its own. In fact, this was the very law that provided the means of survival for Ruth and Naomi when they returned to Israel from Moab. (See Ruth 2.)

“Paul is asking the church of Corinth to give from the edges, from their surplus.”

In one of his letters to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul advocates a similar ethic for meeting the needs of others. After encouraging the church at Corinth to follow through with their commitment to financially support impoverished believers in Jerusalem, Paul says that he is not asking them to give to the point that they become poor and the receivers of the gift become rich. Instead, he’s asking them to give from the edges, from their surplus: “At this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14).

Last December, my Sunday school class adopted a family for Christmas. We didn’t expect one member of our class to give up her own family’s Christmas gifts to help this family in need. Instead, we all dipped into the extra of our holiday budgets and purchased gifts for the whole family. Our plenty supplied their need. The class has done the same thing for funeral dinners and service projects. By giving of our extra time, money, and resources, we meet the need while sharing the burden.

Of course, Paul also commends sacrificial giving, acknowledging that the Macedonians’ “deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” and  “according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3). There are times when the needs of others are so great that we do have to move beyond the margins to give. Recently, a devastating illness left a friend’s husband unable to care for his family or himself. While many people have pitched in, my friend’s parents dropped everything to help. Their contributions in every area of life have proven to be sacrificial.

I think also of the Good Samaritan, whose care for the man lying on the side of the road felt extreme—extravagant, really. Yet the next day, like the others who didn’t stop, even the Samaritan had to continue on his way, bound by the demands of time and obligation. Presumably he was heading somewhere on business, walking along a road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Without minimizing the sacrifice of his actions, maybe there is another lesson here. Perhaps it was out of the margin of his time and resources—an extra day for travel or living below his means in order to have more to give—that he was free to stop and help (Luke 10:25-37).

“I think also of the Good Samaritan, whose care for the man lying on the side of the road felt extreme—extravagant, really.”
 

Here lies the simplicity—and the difficulty—of serving others from the edges of our lives: We have to know where the edges are.

This past summer, I planted two tomato plants next to the fence. After a wet spring and summer, both grew much larger than expected but were producing almost no fruit. At one point, I nearly pulled them up by the root. But then in the dry days of late summer, the fruit swelled and the vines grew heavy. And by the time the first frost arrived in early November, those two small plants had produced enough tomatoes to feed our family for weeks. It was a simple but profound lesson.

In my family, we’re learning that serving from the margins means we live below our means, avoid over-commitment, and hold onto our stuff with open hands. Partnering with others, we’re often surprised by how far our “extra” goes when added to the extra of the people around us. We give sacrificially at times, too. But generally, we serve by keeping our margins free so when needs arise, we can help meet them. And the real blessing of it all is that, time and again, we are awed by what God does with even the smallest of things.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Giving

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What happens to my notes

9 Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.

1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.

2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor." And she said to her, Go, my daughter."

3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, May the LORD be with you." And they said to him, May the LORD bless you."

5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, Whose young woman is this?"

6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab.

7 And she said, `Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.' Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while."

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids.

9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw."

10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?"

11 Boaz replied to her, All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.

12 May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge."

13 Then she said, I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants."

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar." So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left.

15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her.

16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her."

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.

18 She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied.

19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed." So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz."

20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, May he be blessed of the LORD who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead." Again Naomi said to her, The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives."

21 Then Ruth the Moabitess said, Furthermore, he said to me, `You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.'"

22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field."

23 So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;

2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.

3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord,

25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

26 And He said to him, What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?"

27 And he answered, YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."

28 And He said to him, You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE."

29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?"

30 Jesus replied and said, A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.

31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,

34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, `Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'

36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands? "

37 And he said, The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, Go and do the same."

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