When I first met my elderly neighbor, he informed me that he loved Jesus, but that "those damned fundamentalists drive him crazy." I’m not sure where he thought I fell on the fundamentalist spectrum, but I noted that the octogenarian had a little spunk left in the tank. We became friends over the years, and toward his life’s end, he and his wife spent dozens of thousands of dollars on their backyard. It's like they knew they were nearing the end, and something about a garden resonated with their deepest desires. They hauled in mounds of fertile soil and planted a garden plucked straight from the pages of a magazine. The garden blossomed and matured. They gave my small children free range of their backyard, and they afforded them access to pick any flower in the garden. Then, the old man died.
A new neighbor moved in, and she lived alone. She occasionally walked in her backyard, but she didn’t seem to engage the plants the way my former neighbor did. It seemed more like she owned them than loved them. One day, my son came running into the house; he was clearly distraught: Mommy, I was picking you a flower and the lady said that it was best if I stayed out of her backyard and didn’t pick anymore flowers.
God cares as much for flower pickers as gardeners, as much for gleaners as growers.
"And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God (Leviticus 23:22). "You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard"(19:10).
This obscure Law, tucked away in the seldom traversed paths of Leviticus, ensured that gleaners, those who found nourishment from leftovers, would survive. God was serious about this principle: leave a little around the edges. I'm God, got it?
Less than a year later, the woman’s garden looks like manure. Maybe God answered my prayer, or maybe a garden knows when its owners are being turds, and the land rejected her; I’m not certain. Is it any coincidence that the roses in our garden are having a banner year? That the marigolds are virtually taking over? Pick them all son, every last one of them. Give them to your mama, sister…and your neighbor.
It’s hard to love that old woman. But, that’s the Way of Jesus, isn’t it? Flowers for grumps, right?
Then again, it makes me wonder if I’m leaving enough around the edges in my own life? Is there enough time left for my neighbors? For the poor? Enough money for those who need it? Am I leaving enough around the edges?