So how’s that for a mixed message – “Precious” with a picture of a dumpster? Today’s reading from the Gospel of John (6:1-21) tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand – where Jesus takes 5 small loaves and 2 fish and somehow feeds the multitude. John doesn’t describe how it happens, just that it does, but there’s a really interesting thing that happens in verse 12 that can be easy to overlook.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
I was reading this in a Bible study last week and we got talking about Communion / Lord’s Supper / Eucharist and how in some traditions, the elements are never thrown away or wasted. The wine has to be completely drunk, the bread totally eaten because it has been consecrated – made holy. So if it has been consecrated, then no way should it just be tossed out or poured down a drain. It is precious.
As I read the passage today, I remembered this discussion last week but it went another step for me today. I remembered a news item I read a few weeks back about how American’s throw away nearly 20 lbs of food per month per person. It is estimated that 30%-40% of the food supply in the US is wasted. I wish I could say that I wasn’t guilty of this, but I am. We threw away about a dozen grapes this morning because they had gotten pretty squished in the fridge when we put the bag in. Similarly there is other food in our house that goes to waste – leftovers that are left too long in the fridge, bread that gets moldy before its eaten, and the list could go on. I was convicted by these words of Jesus that the food that we have is precious – whether it is consecrated on an altar in a worship space or whether its prepared in our kitchen for the family to share together. The Gospel passage doesn’t say what happened, but I wonder what was done with the leftovers. Did the disciples and Jesus use that for their food as they continued to travel? Was it given to the poor like the Torah commanded people to leave a corner of their field unharvested for the poor to come and harvest? What was its use? Regardless of the use, Jesus told the disciples to not let it go to waste.
I thought about a picture today about abundance, a picture of beautiful fruit or something like that. But the more I thought about it, the more I was reminded that a dumpster is pretty reflective of our relationship with food in our country. Inside this dumpster was likely food that could have been eaten but was thrown away because someone didn’t want to finish what they had or because they didn’t like how it tasted. There are bottles in this trash that because of the plastic with which they were made will go into landfills and potentially eventually into the waterways and oceans.
God has given us a precious gift in our Creation and in the fruits of this wondrous Creation. These words today spoke to me about how I need to treat all food as a precious consecrated gift.