“Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?'” (Matthew 16:9-11, NIV).
When I was a kid my dad was a school teacher and since school teachers didn’t make very much money, my mom also worked to supplement our family income. In the summer my dad was a stay-at-home parent and it fell to him to fix lunch each day. He would always gather the leftovers from various, unrelated meals and warm them up for our lunch. Oh, how I loathed leftovers!
Perhaps the disciples felt the same way about leftovers in this story from Matthew 16 when they forgot to take food with them on their boat trip across the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew indicates that when Jesus fed the 5,000 men (plus women and children) from 5 loaves and 2 fishes (supplied by a little boy according to John), there were 12 basketfuls of leftovers from the meal (Mark, Luke and John all concur with these numbers; cf. Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15): “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14:20, NIV).
When Jesus performed a similar miracle with 4,000 men (plus women and children), there were 7 basketfuls of leftovers: “They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” (Matthew 15:37, NIV).
After the feeding of the 4,000+ Jesus and the disciples got in a boat and went across the lake (sometimes called the Sea of Galilee in the Bible and now called Lake Tiberias, it is the largest freshwater lake in Israel).
Despite the fact that there were 7 basketfuls of leftovers from the feeding of the crowd of 4,000+, the disciples somehow forgot to take food with them when they set out to cross the lake: “When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread” (Matthew 16:5, NIV; cf. Mark 8:14,16).
Maybe the disciples forgot to take food on their boat ride because they were simply tired of eating bread and fish leftovers from these crowd-feeding miracles that Jesus performed!
While these miracles of feeding thousands from a small amount of food demonstrate that God is able to supply His provision and care to His people, these miracles also reveal an important aspect of God’s character and personality that we don’t often recognize–a bias towards excess or abundance.
Actually, the enormity of these miracles of the feeding of thousands is even greater than we have been taught. Jesus didn’t provide just enough food to feed everyone, He supplied more than enough food. He supplied a surplus, an abundance!
And, that’s how God works. That’s who He is.
God doesn’t supply His creation with just what is needed; He provides more than is needed. God embellishes his creation with a surplus, with an abundance.
Look at the billions of stars in the night sky. Or, consider the numbers of species of life forms on the earth. That number currently stands at 8.7 million, give or take a million!
What’s important about this personality trait of God–this bias towards abundance–is that it’s comprehensive. God is extremely good; His grace is amazing; His mercy abounds; His love is excessive!
So much so that God would go so far as to redeem rebellious humanity by sending His Son to earth to become a lowly human being and then die an ignominious death so people could live in eternity with Him.
Doesn’t this give new meaning to John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The human condition is such that it’s almost not enough that God is merciful and gracious. What’s required for our eternal restoration is grace that is beyond just grace, mercy that is more than just mercy.
What’s required for our salvation is extreme, extravagant, extraordinary mercy and grace. What’s needed to redeem us is limitless love.
So, don’t forget to bring the leftovers!
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)