Among the laws God gave His people who owned land and fields is the command for farmers not to harvest every last corner and scrap:
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.
I always thought this command was only for the good of the poor. But the other day I stumbled across this Forward Day by Day meditation from 1971 that points out how it is also good for God’s creation – a timely reminder for Earth Day.
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The command against reaping the corners of the field goes back to the primitive belief in spirits who had authority over the land. A place to dwell and food to eat had to be left for them or they would leave the farmer. Now Israel has given the old law a new humanitarian bent: We are not to take everything for ourselves but to leave something for the one less fortunate that we.
To plow the field up to the last furrow, to attempt to scrape the last bit of profit from one’s labor, betokens a miserly spirit which in the end works to its own disadvantage. Agricultural science [knows] this ecological truth. To drain the potholes and the marshlands, to plow up the submarginal lands, is to create floods and dust bowls.
We need this “concern for the corner” operative in the city as well as the country, and not the contractor who uses the cheapest possible material, replacing one slum with another soon-to-be, or the housing developers who crowd in as many apartments as possible in their high-rises. Without concern for the corner, we poison our streams, kill the lakes, pollute the air, and destroy the quality of human living.