‘Tis the season to overeat. Or at least it was. It’s a new year now, and there’s work to be done.
Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas dinner. These are supposed to be feasts of abundance, in which people eat until they’re stuffed, and leftovers are practically guaranteed. Financially, many can ill afford such a meal, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t wish for one (witness the joy of the Cratchit family when they receive Scrooge’s anonymous gift).
My mother grew up in a time of scarcity, and raised our family on a meager budget. She knew how to stretch a dollar. But there was always abundance when she hosted a meal for guests. It would be shameful for people to have to quietly covet the last piece of meat, or to have to leave the table still hungry. You knew there would be leftovers.
Perhaps, we might say the same of God?
The miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 appears in all four gospels. You know the story. Jesus is teaching the multitudes, and it’s getting on toward dinnertime. The disciples therefore suggest that the people need to be sent away to find food and lodging. But Jesus teasingly responds, “You give them something to eat.” When they can produce nothing more than two small fish and five loaves of bread, Jesus takes the offering, blesses it, and makes it feed the entire crowd. And it’s more than just a snack: “Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers” (Luke 9:17, CEB).
“Leftovers.” It’s such a mundane word in our culture. It even suggests something second best, something no one wants anymore. But the word Luke uses (as well as Matthew and John) comes from a verb that means “to abound.” The leftovers, in other words, are a symbol of the abundance of the provision.
It reminds me of what Paul said to the Corinthians, to encourage cheerful, generous giving:
God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. As it is written, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever. The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. (2 Cor 9:8-11, CEB)
“More than enough.” Literally, Paul says that God can cause “all grace to abound” so that believers “may abound to every good work.”
The Corinthians seem to be thinking of charitable giving as a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers, in which more for them means less for me. But Paul paints a picture of abundance instead. Do you not trust God to give you what you need, and then some? Don’t worry. God is generous to you so you can be generous to others. So pursue righteousness, and trust God to not only provide, but to multiply your efforts.
I know that when I am asked to give, my automatic response is often from a self-protective mindset of scarcity. I’m still learning to trust God in that regard, to see the world as a place where grace abounds.
Because with God, it seems, there are always leftovers.