A Different Kind of Leftovers

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
—John 6:11 ESV, emphasis mine

If you’ve ever raised a man cub, you can empathize with my battle with the grocery budget. The cost to feed four sons (plus my husband and me) is staggering. On an average week we go through two gallons of milk, six boxes of cereal, two loaves of bread, and four dozen eggs. (That’s just breakfast, y’all!). My boys can flat out eat. We are blessed to have enough resources to feed them as often as they wish.

My children have never experienced true hunger. Still, they wake up every morning worried they will have to. 

“Mom, what’s for breakfast?”
“Mom, can I have a snack?”
“Mom, what’s for lunch?”
“Mom, do we have any snacks?”
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
“Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack?”

Every road trip I hear the same worried question, often before our car has left the driveway. “Buuuuuut what will weeeeee eaaaat?”

It’s funny and frustrating, but also revealing. Don’t we have a constant, gnawing fear that this will be the day the Lord forgets about our needs or makes us go without. Even as we set our tables with beautiful dishes and steaming sides for Thanksgiving, there is a part of us that worries that tomorrow we will go without. 

Scared into Scarcity

Consider the miracle recorded in John 6:1–15. The crowds had seen that Jesus could do miracles (John 6:2), but watching the work of the Divine on behalf of someone else only increases our heart pangs. Surely each person wanted a miracle of his own. In this way these people are an archetype of us. We each have a longing, deep and urgent, to have Jesus fill us.

Before the approaching crowd reached Him and gathered to hear His hillside sermon, Jesus turned to His trusted disciple Philip and asked, “Where will we buy bread so that these people can eat?” (v. 5). As verse 6 tells us, Jesus didn’t pose the question because He did not know where to find food for the crowds but rather to see if Philip knew where the provision would come from. The needs of the crowd didn’t surprise Jesus. Like a mom preparing snacks for a road trip, He knew they needed to be fed (v. 6). 

Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little” (v. 7). 

Philip had the facts right, but where was his faith? He was at the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:11). He had seen Jesus heal the official’s son at Capernaum (John 4:46–54). He’d watched the lame man leap up from his sickbed at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–8). Yet he didn’t believe Jesus could meet the scope of needs that were walking toward them. It just took a few hungry followers to expose the truth: Philip operated out of scarcity. 

Scarcity, it seems, is part and parcel of being broken people in a broken world. My boys’ fear that they won’t have enough to eat isn’t based on experience. Sin has stamped a scarcity mindset onto their little hearts. And it’s stamped onto yours too. 

Filled to Overflowing

While the primary lesson of this story found in John 6 is about Jesus Himself being our provision, let’s pause and consider a secondary lesson. Let’s examine how our own attitudes toward food point to wider issues of faith. What does chronic overeating say about our walk with the Lord? Or using food as a constant source of indulgence? Or fear of calories? Or obsession with eating organic? Or deep shame attached to that slice of pumpkin pie piled with whipped cream? Often these are not just food issues. These are faith issues—reminders that only Jesus can fully satisfy. 

Back to the hillside. 

Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks he distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted. 

When they were full, he told his disciples, “Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted” (vv. 11–12, emphasis mine).

This isn’t a fictional story. Those baskets of leftovers were as real as the screen you’re looking at. But aren’t they also a bit metaphorical? Like my sweet sons, we wake up every day with longings. The work we’ve seen Christ do in the past often isn’t enough to carry the day. We fret we will be forced to go without. 

Those are the facts. Here’s where we can put our faith: 

  • “He satisfies you with good things” (Psalm 103:5).
  • “He does not withhold the good” (Psalm 84:11).
  • He meets all of our “needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). 

The Thanksgiving leftovers that will soon fill your fridge are teaching a parable. The loaves and fishes miracle reveals more than Jesus’ ability to fill us up. It showcases that He can fill us to the point of overflow, and if we let it, this truth can shift our hearts from scarcity to abundance. Now that’s a good reason to give thanks. 

If you enjoyed this article by Erin Davis, you’ll love her book Fasting and Feasting. Good news: it’s available at a great price as a part of our Celebrate the Season Sale! Shop now through December 12 for deals on gifts to help your loved ones be fruitful in every season of life. 

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager … read more …

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