When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, but you must not put any in your basket.
This law may be regarded:
1. As another check on covetousness. It restricted the operation of covetousness in the owner, and taught him to be generous and charitable.
2. As part of the Jewish provision for the poor (cf. Deuteronomy 24:19, 20).
3. As a lesson in honesty. It taught those who used the privilege to restrain themselves to their immediate wants, and to respect on principle the rest of their neighbor's property. It taught them to be honest by trusting them.
4. As giving every one an interest in the fruitfulness of the land. Custom and the force of public opinion would guard the law from abuse. - J.O.
Thou mayest eat grapes.
Thus a privilege was granted, but one strictly limited. A man who was thirsty might help himself to as many grapes as he cared to eat, but he was not to take any away. A man who was hungry might pluck ears of corn, as the disciples of Jesus did, and eat the grains, but he was not to carry a sheaf from the field. In this manner property was guarded. This is in harmony with the biblical law of property generally honoured at the present time. Even those who denounce individual property in land and minerals, and wish to nationalise them, do not advocate such nationalisation without payment to the proprietors. If ownership in land were set aside, the poor might lose the farm or the field bequeathed for their benefit. If ownership in money or goods were set aside, the widow might lose her small annuity, and even have to give up the old watch she values as having belonged to her husband and the treasured curiosities brought by her sailor son from a foreign land. Still, the best property human beings possess is the mental and spiritual wealth they carry in their mind and heart. In other words, they may have history, biography, poetry, religion as the treasures of their inner life. The owners of property are not to be greedily selfish. Nothing was said by Moses to the proprietor or tenant of the vineyard or corn field, but much was implied. If he saw a man, woman, or child pulling a cluster of grapes, he was not to be in a tempest of wrath, as though some great wrong had been done him, or to threaten the intruder with a criminal action. The man was rather to be glad that out of his abundance thirsty and hungry wayfarers could have their needs so readily supplied. Those who have are to be generous to those who have not. Every rich man in the country who does not value his riches as power to do good is an enemy to himself and the country. The limitation of privilege in the vineyard and the corn field enjoined by Moses was an implied exhortation to industry. Grapes might be eaten in the vineyard, but no vessel was to be filled with them and carried away. Those who wanted grapes for the wine press were to grow grapes. Ears of corn might be plucked, but the sickle was not to be used in the field. Those who wanted corn to grind were to plough, to sow, and reap in their own fields; there was to be no greedy appropriation of the fruit for which other men had laboured. It is much better for human beings to act for themselves than indolently to lean on others. There is no food so good as that which a man earns with his own hands. Labour is the law of the spiritual as well as of the temporal sphere. Those who wish to attain a good degree in the Church, and to win the eulogiums pronounced on Christ's faithful servants, must work hard for themselves, that they may learn how to work hard for others. They must read much, think much, pray much. In one of his books Lord Beaconsfield represents a youth as saying, "I should like to be a great man." The counsel given him was: "You must nourish your mind with great thoughts." Those who wish to rank high in Christ's service must appropriate great thoughts, and make them their own by reflection and meditation. There is no way to usefulness except by ardent toil. It is only by setting ourselves to work that we shall be able to afford grapes and corn to famishing souls.
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