|Memorial of St. Athanasius,
bishop and doctor
Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14
Why were there leftovers? What happened to them?
I haven't always wondered about the leftovers, but it is curious that Jesus feeds over 5,000 people and there were 12 baskets of food remaining. Couldn't He have made the quantity be exactly what was needed? What message is there in the existence of leftovers, and what happens to them?
One reason there were leftovers was the desire to provide all the food that people could want. I suspect many people had family gatherings this past weekend and, if they are like our family, had more food than those present could eat. So there were leftovers. We always have too much because we don't want anyone to leave unsated. As we consume the leftovers over the coming days we are reminded of the gathering, and are grateful anew for having had the opportunity to share family and basic sustenance. So perhaps Jesus was responding in a very natural, human way by making sure no one would leave hungry. And in gathering up the leftovers, he was treating the scraps as a reminder of the gathering, to be savored at another day.
We can reflect on leftovers in another context. Jesus uses the feeding analogy on numerous occasions, and reminds us that at the Last Judgment one criteria He will use is whether we fed the hungry. If we feed a group and there are leftovers, what do we do with them? Jesus has the disciples gather them up so they won't be wasted. Were they shared with those who weren't present, those who were less fortunate by not being involved in this miracle directly? What is the responsible approach to dealing with leftovers? How can we share them?
Yet another way to view leftovers is in the context of first servings. Usually food is best when consumed at the peak of savoriness and freshness. Leftovers, however good, are many times second rate because they lack the quality of the first and best cut. Jesus serves the 5,000 the first cut, the freshly prepared (when did He and the disciples eat their fill?). Serving your guests the best cut is good manners and the norm (think of the wine steward at Cana). Perhaps the same good manners applies to our other servings - not just food, but the services and the time we share. Perhaps another message from this feeding is to offer service (whether it be a meal for homeless, working in the parish food pantry, visiting the sick) from the first cut, the best, the freshest, instead of the leftover. Is there more value and respect in serving when the server is fresh, well-rested and giving from the best than when the server is tacking onto an already overloaded life one more "duty" to fulfill? Jesus gives from love and compassion, not a sense of obligation. If we give from our "leftovers" are we truly giving with love and compassion, or are acting out of duty? Is our service less valuable, or merely less ideal, if we act from our leftovers?
My prayer for today is to put my leftovers into proper context.
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