These words were among the last that Jesus spoke to his disciples before he was taken away to be crucified. This command might have seemed out of place in the midst of a discussion about the betrayal, denial, and death that were to come.
He commanded that they love each other.
This group of men had traveled together for three years, serving with and learning from Jesus, sharing meals and hardships. We might easily assume they already loved each other.
There was, however, plenty of cause for division among the disciples. Peter was rash, frequently talking first and thinking second. The brothers, James and John, had been shamelessly vying for important positions in the group. Matthew was a money-collecting agent of the oppressive Roman government before joining up with Jesus, while Simon had been an anti-government political activist.
There was probably tension among them at times, to say the least. Yet it was this motley group that Jesus chose to be the foundation of his church. A church that would be built on love among people who sometimes found it hard to love each other.
As I reflected on the stained glass chapel window imprinted with that command, I wondered what connection there was between sheaves of wheat and Jesus’s desire for his disciples to love each other.
Then I thought of the gleanings.
When God called the Israelites to be his people, he told them they would live differently than other nations. Among those differences were the gleanings. When an Israelite farmer harvested his crops, he was to leave the edges un-harvested and any scattered bits un-gathered. These portions were left for the poor and the foreigner. (See Leviticus 23:22 and the Book of Ruth.)
The gleanings were God’s provision for the needy, and leaving this portion was an act of faith for the landowner. It was an act of love – towards God, neighbor, and stranger – lived out in the regular rhythms of harvest. It was a blessing in the ordinary.
“Love one another.” Jesus’s command in John 13 is for all of us as his disciples, and the principle of the gleanings is one way we can conceptualize it. What does “leaving gleanings” look like today?
Whether it’s time, money, skill, or literal produce from a backyard garden, God has given each of us something that can be shared. In regularly giving and receiving, we live out Jesus’s command to love as he loved, we find blessing in the ordinary alongside one another, and we are tangibly reminded of the presence of God among his people.
Where are the “edges” in your life that can remain un-harvested? Ask God to show you the gleanings you can offer as an act of love.