Originally posted at Pr. Lovett’s blog, Oratio + Meditatio + Tentatio
I have always found it a bit odd that after feeding the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and small fish (John 6:1-15), the Lord tells His disciples to gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost (v. 12). The disciples gathered up the fragments into twelve baskets full. But why’d Jesus care so much about the leftover bread and fish? What was He going to do with twelve baskets full of bread and fish? Surely it would have gone bad soon after that; if not the bread then surely the fish.
Now we can make much of – and rightly so, as theologians have done for centuries – that it was twelve baskets full. From these baskets the disciples would feed the people; from the hand of the Lord to the mouth of the people. Certainly it’s no accident that there were twelve baskets left over (just as in the feeding of the 4,000 in the synoptics, it’s no accident that there were seven baskets filled), and certainly the disciples fed the people from what the Lord gave them, feeding them His word and forgiveness. Not to mention (though I am) the parallels between this and the Lord’s Supper, not the least of which is that this narrative is followed by the famous (and famously argued over) bread of life discourse in John 6.
But back to the point. Why did Jesus concern Himself with saving the fragments of bread and fish? After all, He doesn’t tell His disciples to feed the people from these baskets, which would have been useful given the usual way this is preached – that from these baskets the holy Twelve were to feed the flock of God. He doesn’t say to give it to the poor. And He doesn’t let anyone take it home with them. No doggie bags for the multitudes. No one got to take a souvenir home with them, the miraculous bread (who’d keep the fish!?) that Jesus fed us with. Why did the Lord concern Himself with the leftovers so that nothing may be lost?
Perhaps it is tied up with the Lord’s words that nothing may be lost.
The oddity of the Lord’s command to collect the leftover fragments is not in the collecting of the leftover fragments. That makes sense, especially if it were followed by a command to give it to the poor or some such thing. But the whole reason for collecting it was that nothing may be lost. That seems odd. Until you consider what would have been lost. The bread and fish were meant to be lost: lost to the consumption of the hungry. They were created to be consumed, made to disappear. But the crowd was not. It was the crowd that Jesus did not want to lost.
Consider ancient Israel. In the wilderness without bread, and the Lord provides manna. He directs the people to gather all they want, all they and their house can eat that day. No one had any lack. No one went hungry. There was plenty. So much, in fact, that the left over melted. They couldn’t gather it all because there was so much. Yet some tried to gather more than what they needed or wanted. They gathered for tomorrow. They did not trust the Lord that He would provide for them tomorrow. What the Lord gave was not enough for them. So they collected more than for the day. And what they collected rotted and bred worms and became a stench (Ex. 16:20). Their fear of tomorrow, their distrust of the Lord, and their greed for their bellies made their houses stink.
So the Lord says to gather the leftover fragments that the people would not be lost. Gather the leftover fragments so that the people are not tempted to rely on the provisions rather than on the Provider. Gather the leftover fragments so that the people will look again to the Provider instead of thinking they no longer need Him. The Lord was protecting the multitude. After they’d had their fill, they knew that Jesus was the Lord (John 6:14).
The Lord provides all that we need to support this body and life. But our greed turns His blessings into worm-infested piles of stench. We fret and worry so much over tomorrow that we do not stop to give thanks for what we have today, but only hoard as much as we can in fear of having nothing tomorrow. We do not share what we have, we greedily squirrel it away for our rainy day. Never remembering that when the rainy day came the Lord provided the ark. We are afraid that on our rainy day He will be asleep in the boat.
But to speak of physical things is not good enough. We also squirrel away spiritual things. The Lord provides a holy bath by which our consciences are cleansed before God. Yet we worry it will not be enough and so we construct a righteousness of the law, thinking that we have to shore up what the Lord has provided. He provides His shepherds to forgive our sins and leads in the ways of life. But we are afraid of tomorrow, afraid that His forgiveness will not stretch over our evil sins and that the shepherds will lead us down false paths. So we invent lies that we are not all that sinful so as not to need so much forgiveness. Or we convince ourselves that we only need forgiveness for those sins we cannot rectify ourselves. We store up good works – like the monks of old – to cover when we do sin. Who has not confessed their sins and immediately excused it based on its size, insignificance, or the reason it came about.
The Lord provides His body and blood as a pledge and seal of His mercy and love toward us sinners, but we feel we must go out and find more than He provides. So we invent sacraments that will appease our conscience and convince us that God really does love us. Sacraments such as good feelings, emotive music, daring testimonials, and such things. Good things, to be sure, but not the provisions of the Lord.
When we are concerned with the provisions rather than the Provider, then they become to us a snare and temptation to hoard rather than to use them for the reason they were given. We become men who are lost, groping about for what is not provided. But when we give thanks and praise to the Provider, then there is always enough and we need not fear tomorrow. The Lord will provide.