Lord of the Leftovers
Leftover Night. Yes, leftover night. The night where nobody has to cook. That meal at the end of the week where clean out the fridge and get to cobble together the odds and ends of previous meals. Depending on how old the meals are it can be great. Or not. Sometimes leftover night is cause for celebration. Sometimes it’s going to be less the stellar. When you’re a kid, you tend not to get overly excited about leftovers.
But leftovers are a big deal in the Bible. In ancient agricultural society, your next meal wasn’t always guaranteed. It’s why Jesus told his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” People in the audience were legitimately concerned there wouldn’t be enough food to meet the daily minimum caloric demands. And in a warm climate and a pre-refrigeration culture, even if you had extra food, it often wouldn’t keep very long. So leftovers? They were kind of a foreign concept.
It’s why this episode from the life of Elisha is so fascinating.
“One day a man from Baal-shalishah brought the man of God a sack of fresh grain and twenty loaves of barley bread made from the first grain of his harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people so they can eat.” “What?” his servant exclaimed. “Feed a hundred people with only this?”
But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people so they can eat, for this is what the Lord says: Everyone will eat, and there will even be some left over!” And when they gave it to the people, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as the Lord had promised” (2 Kings 4:42-44).
The miracle, of course, is that a disproportionately small amount of grain and bread feed one hundred adults. And just for fun, God lets everyone eat to their stomach’s content, and then, for good measure, tosses in a little extra, so there will be leftovers.
At first glance, it’s just a nice anecdote: a reminder of Elisha’s faith and God’s provision. But it’s more than that. It’s a prequel, a foretaste of what Jesus will do centuries later.
The Bible records the story of Jesus taking a tiny amount of bread and fish and feeding not just a hundred, but at least 5,000 adults. And, similar to the Elisha story, there are leftovers. The book of Mark says, “He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish” (vv. 41-43).
Anyone in the crowd that day who knew the first story, would immediately see the connection.
Jesus is greater than Elisha. Elisha’s faith feeds dozens; Jesus’s faith feeds thousands.
Sometimes we ask God for just enough. And sometimes God surprises us with more than enough. Just so there’s no doubt about who he is. He’s no Master of the Minimum; he’s the Lord of the Leftovers.