That Nothing May Be Lost

March 8th, 2013 Post by

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.


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  1. March 8th, 2013 at 14:22 | #1

    Great post. I always thought the leftovers were for the guy who gave up the original bread & fish. Plus these were all poor people anyway.

  2. Elizabeth Peters
    March 8th, 2013 at 15:42 | #2

    This is simply not what the text says. “That nothing may be lost” refers to the bread and fish (it’s neuter – mh ti) not to people. The reason Jesus says “that nothing be lost” is because he wants to give another sign, as verse 14 makes clear. Jesus gives proof of his miraculous work.

    I like the doctrinal content of this sermon, but do we really have to do injustice to grammar and the obvious sense of the text in order to make a point about people being ungrateful and Jesus reprimanding them for it?

  3. March 8th, 2013 at 17:26 | #3

    Thanks for the reply, Elizabeth. You’re right, as far as grammar goes, the case that “nothing be lost” as the people is a stretch.
    But then, St. Paul says that Hagar and Sarah are two mountains. That’s really no where in the Old Testament grammar, even remotely. Still, he interprets real events allegorically. That’s really all I did.

    But I concur, we can’t sacrifice grammar.

    @Elizabeth Peters #2

  4. Elizabeth Peters
    March 8th, 2013 at 21:33 | #4

    @Mark Lovett #3

    Thank you for the reply, Pastor Lovett. I agree that allegory is an important exegetical and especially homiletical tool. My question would be: what is the allegory in your interpretation of this text? Hagar and Sarah are two mountains, but is food people? How could this be when the people and the food itself play their parts in your interpretation? That is, the food does not stand in for the people in your interpretation, as Hagar and Sarah stand in for mountains in Paul’s.

  5. March 9th, 2013 at 08:18 | #5

    @Elizabeth Peters #4

    Our Lord’s miracles are not ends in themselves, only for the benefit of the ones who are fed or healed or whatnot. Like His parables, His miracles serve to teach us what the kingdom of heaven is like.

    The bread would be the blessings of God. Because of our greed and unbelief (like the Israelites in the wilderness) we try to hoard them and put our hope in them, as Jesus said to the crowds, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you had your fill of the loaves” (Jn 6:26). So because of our sin, the blessings of God become a snare to us. Thus my presentation that the Lord removed that which would be a snare and temptation. He removes even His blessings so that nothing may be lost.

    The people (to continue the allegorical assignments, which aren’t always so tidy) are all of us.

  6. Elizabeth Peters
    March 9th, 2013 at 09:11 | #6

    @Mark Lovett #5

    Thank you for the reply.

    Interpreting bread as a blessing is more tropological than allegorical, since bread is a blessing and pointing it out is to teach the moral sense of the text. In any case, your last post recapitulates the excellent presentation in your sermon of God’s blessings and our ungratefulness, and what God teaches us by withholding his gifts. But it does not seem an allegorical interpretation at all to say that “that nothing may be lost” refers to people instead of bread, since you go on to talk about the bread as standing in for blessings and about people as standing in for people. The “change” of your allegorical intrepretation, if there is a genuine “change,” is from bread to blessing, and NOT from bread to people. So it would not make sense to read the purpose clause (“that nothing may be lost”) as referring allegorically to people, since this “change” doesn’t hold for the rest of your interpretation, which presents food as blessing and people as people.

  7. Elizabeth Peters
    March 9th, 2013 at 09:21 | #7

    May I suggest a grammatical solution that holds up the integrity of your interpretation? If we simply understand an autois (for them – dative of advantage) in the purpose clause: “that nothing may be lost for them,” your interpretation (which, again, was very edifying) would hold while keeping to the grammar perfectly. Jesus wants no blessing to be lost for them, so he takes the blessing of bread away and puts it in the 12 baskets.

  8. March 9th, 2013 at 14:11 | #8

    @Elizabeth Peters #7

    Your distinction between allegory and tropological is very good. Thank you. I appreciate the dative of advantage, as well (though that does take grammatical liberties :) ). The reason this idea was sparked to begin with – which your dative of advantage helps – is that it seems odd that the Lord wouldn’t want to loose – to have destroyed – the leftover bread. It doesn’t fit. Our Lord is always doing more than meets the eye, and always for the sake of others. So why gather the bread except for the sake of others?

  9. March 9th, 2013 at 14:15 | #9

    Oh, I was wondering why you thought I was suggesting that the bread was allegory (or whatever) for the people?

  10. Elizabeth Peters
    March 10th, 2013 at 15:47 | #10

    @Mark Lovett #9

    Thanks for your replies. If “not anything” refers to the people, but grammatically it refers to bread, then the only way to say it refers to people is to say the bread is an allegory for people. Or am I over-thinking this? In any case, Jesus gathers the bread for the sake of others, and I appreciate your post for making that clear!

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