Summary: This is a sermon mainly designed to be used at Harvest in the UK which uses the harvest laws from Deut 24 to think about the God given responsibility that the "haves,", those with more than enough, have to the "have nots," those in real need.
HARVEST AND THE "HAVE'S" AND "HAVE NOTS"
"When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this." Deuteronomy 24:19-22
When asked what is their favourite book of the Bible very few people name the book of Deuteronomy as being at the top of their list. For us as 21st century Christians, Deuteronomy seems full of archaic, strange, and, irrelevant laws, designed for ancient Israel not our life in modern Europe. It's certainly true that the culture Deuteronomy was written for ended along time ago and is very different from our contemporary culture. Its also true that God's people today don't constitute a single nation as the Jews did in Israel thousands of years ago. Nevertheless, we'd be wrong to skip past Deuteronomy with it's detailed laws thinking it has no implications for us followers of Jesus in 2016.
Whilst the civil laws of the Old Testament such as those in Deuteronomy aren't binding on us as they were in ancient Israel we shouldn't ignore or dismiss them as irrelevant or unimportant because we can distill from them principles that have continuing implications for how we live our lives today as God's People.
Timothy Keller puts it like this
"We should be wary of simply saying, "These things don't apply any more," because the mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God's character, and that never changes. God often tells the Israelites to lend to the poor without interest and to distribute goods to the needy and defend the fatherless, because "the LORD your God ... Defends the cause of the fatherless and widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing" Deuteronomy 10:17-18. If this is true of God, we who believe in Him must always expressing it in our own practices, even if believers now live in a new stage in the history of God's redemption." Keller p22
So what implications might this ancient law about harvesting for us as people living thousands of years later and probably not involved in earning our living from farming? Chris Wright, an OT, expert says when trying to distill implications our aim should be "to preserve the objective while changing the context." In other words, we need to try and pinpoint the original intention of the law and then think about ways in which that original intention can be lived out by us as God's people now in our community and world.
It's clear as we read this passage that this law had implications for two groups of people in Ancient Israel.
The first group were the land owners, those who owned fields, olive groves and vineyards. These were what we might call "The Haves" of Ancient Israel, families who, especially at harvest time, had more than enough. These were the people who, to greater or lesser extent, were financially stable or well off and didn't really have to worry about where their next meal was going to come from.
THE HAVE NOTS
The very opposite of these people were a group of people referred to three times in this short passage as, "sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow." The "sojourner" or "alien" was someone from another country living in Israel perhaps the word we would use to describe the same people in our culture would the "immigrant." When the OT refers to fatherless and widow it's doing more than describing people who have been bereaved. In the ancient world orphans and widows without fathers and husband were the people most likely to suffer injustice and economic hardship. So when the OT talks about "sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow." it's describing the "have nots" of that time, those at the bottom and on the margins of Israelite society. These were the people who lived close to the breadline who were most vulnerable to hunger and poverty.
THE HAVE'S AND HAVE NOTS
At first reading these few verses just seem to encourage inefficient agriculture, the land owners weren't to harvest everything in their field they were to leave food behind, they weren't to go back over olive trees and vines to make sure they hadn't missed anything. The portion of the harvest that was left behind wasn't to be left to rot, instead we are told, "It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow."