As a Christian growing up in the evangelical Midwest, I studied the New Testament much more than the Old Testament. Sure, I knew the stories of Moses, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and David, and I prayed with the Psalms, but I confess I have never read or studied the more “obscure” books like Leviticus. I saw it as a bunch of old laws that don’t really apply to me. Take for example Leviticus 25, much of it has to do with farming, land sale and ownership. I don’t own a house and have never farmed.
For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord… Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten. Leviticus 25:3-7
How many of us have vineyards; how many of us would allow the land to self-seed and do its own thing on the 7th year; how many of us would allow employees, neighbors, migrant workers, livestock and wild animals roam our land and eat whatever they want from it- especially since that is what we would also be eating from. I don’t think we would like that competition for scarce resources.
‘If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 25:14-17
This is another absurd concept. When you buy land, you do not look at the neighborhood value or medium price of something comparable in that area, instead, you look at when Jubilee will occur and when you would have to return the land back to the original owner. The further you are from Jubilee, the higher the price for the land. The closer you are to Jubilee, the lower the price because God explains that you are paying for the number of crops you can harvest and not actually the land. God reminds us in verse 23, the land is actually God’s and we are but foreigners and strangers.
Leviticus 25 commands a different lens to view the world and dictates another set of behaviors.
God makes special provisions for the poor. There is no mention of how the poor became poor, but because they ARE poor, those who have more need to be generous and provide opportunities for the poor to feed themselves and to end the cycle of poverty for the next generation. Verse 10 explains how every 49th year, all of the land that was sold will be returned, so that the next generation will not suffer the way the previous generations has. God has provided a way for us to NOT accumulate too much wealth while others go without. God has provided a way to end poverty being passed down from generation to generation. That is God’s heart; that is God’s desire.
I think God prefers generosity over charity. Generosity to the point that it may cost us something.
So what does this generation do with Leviticus 25? While the farming and sale of land practices may not be applied to our current reality. God’s heart and his desires have not changed.
When we think of our response to poverty, we think of charity. We think we should write a bigger check or volunteer at a soup kitchen. (All great things, so I am not saying don’t do it.) However, with this chapter, I think God prefers generosity over charity. Generosity to the point that it may cost us something. If you are a business owner or have staff, are you paying people a bit more, even though it means you have a little less? When you go out to a restaurant, are you generous with your tips? You give people the dignity to earn a fair, generous wage, rather than resort to charity to survive. You don’t take advantage of the poor’s desperation to sell their services and goods at a lower price, but rather pay at a premium because you can afford it. God’s demand for us to be generous is not based on whether or not someone deserves it, but based on our ability to do it.
So what does Leviticus 25 mean for you? What does it mean for me? I am not sure, but I believe God wants to take us down the slippery slope of generosity and he wants us to self-examine and wrestle with it. He wants us to be generous to the poor to the point when others will look at us and wonder if there isn’t a bit of absurdness. BUT isn’t that the kind of God we worship and are asked to emulate; a God so absurd that he would sacrifice his own son so that he can be with us; a God that absurdly loves us because of who he is and not because of who we are.
This blog was written by Faye Yu and originally published on Do Justice. Photo by Amber Lucero-Dwyer used with permission.