We read this morning from Deuteronomy, chapter 24: “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back and get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. And when you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”
In that ancient culture, of course, there was no social safety net anything like what exists for us today. There was no tax-funded medical system with hospitals; there was no framework of employment insurance for when you got laid off; there weren’t non-governmental organizations providing skills training; there were no pension benefits for the elderly. In that ancient culture if there was any kind of social safety net, it was simply your family. It was through your immediate and your extended family that you had a home and property and protection and food and work. And so if you didn’t have a family, you were profoundly vulnerable – you were at risk. If you didn’t have a family you were without protection and without support and almost invariably without a livelihood.