Deuteronomy 23: 24 – 25
24 If you enter your neighbour’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbour’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain
Good fences make good neighbours so the old saying goes.
There is of course a lot more that needs to be put into the mix to ensure you and your neighbours can establish and remain on good terms. The writers of Deuteronomy, knowing they were coming into the long promised land, also knew there had to be some kind of regulation so people would know where the boundaries were and how they could interact. It was a given that travellers would graze as they journeyed along but how to put limits on such activity to ensure that the owners of the land were not bankrupted or taken a loan of? Well the answer lay in making regulations that all could understand and keep to.
It was a good system for it was still in force centuries later when Jesus walked in Galilee with his Disciples. Remember when they picked ears of corn on the Sabbath much to the chagrin of the Pharisees? They were taking advantage of this regulation that allowed them to alleviate their hunger by pulling a few ears of corn but not strip the harvest by taking a sickle to the crop. The Pharisees insistence on even this being not permitted on the Sabbath was a different legal question.
So it was a good rule, you could eat a few grapes in the vineyard but not fill your basket for later. Everyone survived and got along together. I once attended a lecture by someone who studied the travelling community and how attitudes of the general public changed towards them over the years. His thesis was that in years gone by the Travellers provided a valuable service repairing household goods or selling utensils, and if a hen or two “disappeared” when they were in a village well no real problem, they would move on after a few days. The problems and prejudices started to arise when it was decided that they should settle in one area and then the persistent “disappearance” of livestock did become a problem.
The writers of Deuteronomy sought to provide a framework within which a nomadic people could settle and become a resident community. It was a framework that did indeed work so long as the people stayed within it.
Our whole society too could benefit from regaining that premise of sharing that which does beggar one’s neighbour, or to put it another way if we could just learn to live together sharing what we have what a wonderful world this could be.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, you in your love have given us more than we could possibly need. Help us to share especially in these difficult times so that all may have enough to live lives to your glory.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,