Call this one of those “wait, what?!” moments. In John 6:1-14 is the familiar account of Jesus feeding the five thousand plus crowd with just a few barley loaves and two fish. A miracle in the truest sense of the word. But the miracle isn’t today’s focus, but an often glanced over verse as the narrative winds down. “When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.”” (John 6:12, NASB95)
In today’s world, the last thing we would do is gather up the fragments. Why worry about the leftovers when it seemed Jesus has an infinite supply? Was it just to prove a point? To record that twelve baskets of bread remained. Or to demonstrate that Jesus didn’t just give the crowd a snack, but everyone was satisfied with plenty leftover. Yet, at least to my mind, gathering fragments for proof seems shallow and unlike Jesus.
I think the reason is exactly what Jesus said it was, “so that nothing will be lost.” This is the ultimate demonstration of frugality and tells us much about God’s character. The typical human behavior, when there is an abundance, is to throw away the crumbs and leftover bits. But we can become very frugal in times of drought and famine, treasuring each remaining morsel. Yet, here in a moment of abundance, Jesus exercises frugality. Not to prove a point, but because it was the right thing to do.
Just to be clear, frugal doesn’t mean cheap or stingy. It is impossible to put those labels on God who gave His only Son and lavishes grace on all (the rain falls on the just and the unjust). Although there are times where frugality appears cheap. Such as wearing a perfectly good shirt even though its style is dated. Perhaps we should all be more wisely frugal with the things of life.
Why do we care? So, what if they collected the leftovers or didn’t? As is said above, it demonstrates God’s frugal character and the desire for nothing to be lost – including you and me. Jesus said as much to His disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31, NASB95) Or consider the parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd had an abundance yet searched until the one lost lamb was found (Luke 15:4-7).
Likewise, Peter said, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NASB95) In our humanness, we often throw away (in a sense) the difficult people in our lives. Or those we judge to be unworthy or beyond repair or simply unredeemable. God doesn’t throw people away, neither should we. They may not accept His grace or choose His love, but up until their last breath God’s desire is for them to turn towards Jesus.
The same is true for you and me. We may think that we’re just a bit of leftover bread in the scheme of things. Insignificant and unimportant in the view of God and others. But that is not true! Nothing and no one is useless, wasted, or thrown away in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t waste people. But gathers them, keeps them, and empowers them as He chooses.