SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/Leftover Fragments
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 1:00 AM
"Jesus soon saw a great crowd of people climbing the hill, looking for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, "Philip, where can we buy bread to feed all these people?" He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, "It would take a small fortune to feed them!" Then Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up. "There's a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?" . . . And they all ate until they were full. "Now gather the leftovers," Jesus told his disciples, "so that nothing is wasted." There were only five barley loaves to start with, but twelve baskets were filled with the pieces of bread the people did not eat!" (John 6:5-8,11b-13)
Writing of God's sovereignty over the tiny details of our lives, R. C. Sproul Jr discussed the fact that, with God, there are "no small details" - that all of the "for want ofs" of our existence pose no serious problem for God for he is not only the "God of the mighty, but the tiny."
We see something of that here in this gospel account of the feeding of the masses. Jesus was not caught off-guard by the sudden appearance of the crowd just as God, in the Old Testament, was never suddenly bewildered by a drought or famine. Jesus knew, we're told, exactly what he planned to do. The disciples, however, displayed their absolute befuddlement over the circumstances knowing full well that they lacked the wherewithal to feed such a large gathering of hungry people. But Jesus perceived this as a divinely-made opportunity to display, not only the power of Almighty God, but his grace as well.
The disciples were instructed to seat the crowd in an orderly manner and after the meager supplies (five small barley loaves and two small, salted fish) were blessed, Jesus gave orders that the food be distributed among the people. I can't help but believe that even as the disciples went forth among the hillside mass of humanity with their pittance of food, Andrew's obvious question still echoed in their minds, "What are these (five loaves and two fish) for so many?" None of them, in their wildest imaginations, could believe that what they held in their hands would ever be sufficient for the present need. Philip earlier had estimated that even eight months of wages would only be sufficient for everyone present to have just a little something to eat. In other words, their best hope was that a small piece of food might be given to each individual so as to stave off the pains of hunger for a moment. Beyond that, none of them dared dream. But Jesus could see further.
As you read the account in its entirety (and I encourage you to do so) you soon discover that not only were the people fed but that they were filled. The NIV puts it that "all had enough to eat". The NASV got it more correct by saying "they were all filled." The word in the Greek implies that they were 'satisfied' or 'sated'. Now I imagine that you, at one time or another, perhaps following a huge feast at Thanksgiving or Christmas - you have pushed your chair back from the table while emitting a huge groan as you confessed that it would not be possible for you to eat even one morsel more of the meal. That's the image of what we find here. Not only were the people given something to eat, but they were fully satisfied with an abundance of food so that their hunger was removed completely. And that's not all! As you read on you discover that the disciples were commanded by Jesus to pick up all the leftovers so that none would be wasted, and when they did so, twelve baskets of fragments were collected.
Perhaps you may have wondered why Jesus didn't simply provide 'just enough' and what may have been the purpose of all the extra fragments. I've wondered about that myself and this is the conclusion I've reached. The complete satisfaction of the people and the collection of the fragments are intended to reveal to us that our God is not into impoverishment but abundance and that he delights to give, not miserly, but bountifully.
I also feel that this event is designed to force us to consider how difficult it is for us, at times, to image what the power of God can do with the smallness in our hands. Ask yourself: 'How often do I allow the obvious inadequacies of a thing to obscure the sufficiency of God from my eyes?' How often do we permit our poverty to hide God's riches? We look at our own abilities, our flawed or underdeveloped talents, our meager resources - and we can't imagine God being able to use them to accomplish very much at all - and so we don't even avail them to his service. An unholy skepticism dominates our response to God's grace, reflecting a poverty of faith, rather than an eagerness to see what God can do with so little as what we might have to offer. A. W. Pink once said that "All fullness dwells in Christ, and that fullness is exhaustless." But we can only see the little, failing to perceive God's greatness.
Let me ask you: What fragments have you allowed to drop by the wayside - wasted - not collected and offered to Christ? -- fragments of time, fragments of talents, fragments of resources? Jesus proves here what he can do with even the small things we choose to place into his hands. He shows how sufficient he is for every occasion. What would it take for you to begin to trust him in a particularly hopeless-looking area of your own life today? No matter the necessity, God stands ready to amaze you with his abundant grace.
The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.