They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. Matt. 14:20
I am not a fan of the leftover.
Growing up, my mother made what we needed for one meal and that was all with the rare exception for chili or soup: I didn’t grow up with next-day Tupperware containers and foil-wrapped packages and defrosted meals from a month ago.
My husband did, and so I uncomplainingly make and pack leftovers for his lunch. Occasionally, I’ve warmed up to even taking my own. And I’ve learned the alchemy of cooking that transforms yesterday’s stale bread into today’s croutons.
I still think of leftovers, though, as fundamentally inferior: the stuff that’s left after the good part is gone.
So I look at this verse from Matthew and the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, and I often wonder: why? Why did they pick up the leftover bread? Did Jesus ask them to do it? Did the leftovers go to those in need? Why were the leftovers broken, specifically? Were they the bits that no one else wanted – the heels and tough crusts? Were they just extra broken bits of bread that got mingled in with the rest? Why did the Gospel writer zero in on this particular detail?
Scholars often cite the leftovers as an example of God’s abundant giving, and I do not doubt this to be true. Of course when asked to feed a crowd God supplies food for the crowd and then some. But as for the other questions and the ultimate destination of the leftover bread, we can only speculate. And I was doing just that when I came home today, drawn to that particular image from that particular verse.
I was a little frazzled. It’s my first week back to work after a week of vacation, I have a bunch of major projects going on, and it’s an exciting but high-energy time. Getting back in “work mode” has disturbed my sleep pattern and left me at odd ends, so when I sat down for dinner and my husband asked me how I was, I blurted out, “I feel leftover.”
We both laughed.
But the assertion stuck with me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. This me – tired and distracted me, swamped-with-deadlines me, needs-to-get-better-sleep me, me who feels raw-edged and who came home hangry, me who is most assuredly not operating at 100% – is beloved of God. This is the me God has gathered to Himself. This is the me God chose and is always choosing, always calling.
God has a purpose for all things. Even the leftovers. He will make use of it all.
I can’t help but contrast the imagery here in Matthew – leftover bread lovingly gathered – with the image of the hoarded manna in Exodus: rotting and maggot-filled. The first is an image of God’s grace and the second of human greed. Generosity versus mistrust. Obedience as opposed to rebellion.
I don’t know where your week is taking you, but if you too feel “leftover,” know that in this moment God has called, is calling, and will call you, too: that He has a purpose for you in this very moment, that He has gathered you to Himself. Remember baskets of broken bread bits summoned by the Maker Himself, and dwell for a moment in consideration of God’s generosity, and realize that you in your leftover-ness and brokenness can still be an extension of it.
Nothing is too little, too small, or too insignificant for God to make use of it.