To answer this question, we need to look at the readings from the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 25, 2021). In both the first reading (2 Kings 4:42- 44) and the Gospel (John 6: 1-15) we have different people assessing a situation where there is a scarcity of resources. Although the numbers to be fed vary greatly – 100 in the first reading versus 5000 plus in the Gospel – the results come about strictly in relying on God’s abundance. This abundance creates leftovers but before we address that let us look at how each person tries to deal with this situation.
In the first reading the servant objects at Elisha’s instruction to give the twenty barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear to the people to eat. He responds, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” He makes a mathematical evaluation and sees the scarcity of resources. Elisha, the man of God, insists saying, “Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’” His faith and reliance are on God. The servant did as he was told and the reading ends with, “And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.” (2 Kgs 4:44)
In the Gospel, Jesus sees a large crowd coming to Him. He asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip seems to be overwhelmed by how much it would cost to meagerly feed the crowd. Another disciple, Andrew, finds a boy in the crowd who has five barley loaves and two fish but again just like the servant of the first reading he looks at the scarcity of resources and says, “but what good are these for so many?”
The responses and reactions we have read of so far begs to ask ourselves, how do we see the world? Do we only see the scarcity or the Divine abundance? Do we make God part of the solution? Do we pray?
“Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them.” They also had as much fish as they wanted. When they had their fill, Jesus told the disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
Leftovers brought to memory the meals I would have with family, especially when my mom was alive, where I would not only be filled but I was sent home with leftovers. Do you know that some Italian dishes such as lasagna and eggplant parmesan are better the next day, when all the ingredients have had a chance to rest and form that perfect marriage between the pasta, cheeses, sauce and herbs.?
There were twelve baskets of leftovers in John’s Gospel, one for each of the twelve disciples. There are always leftovers when we get fed from God, especially at Mass. We have the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist. We are fed and leave the church filled by the Eucharist and we are to bring that excess to others we meet. Our sharing of what God has done in our lives with others is like sharing a piece of yesterday’s lasagna. It is all done out of God’s abundance and love for every one of us. Please do not waste the leftovers.