butter light

Gospel Leftovers – finding God in the crumbs

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“The taste of a good meal lingers…  even in the leftovers.”

{some thots after spending time with Jesus at the corner of St. Mark and 8:16-21}

Joe did a great job. He led our Bible study last time we met. Joe is good for this.

He casually goes to the front of the room. Our Bibles are open. We’ve got coffee. Somehow he puts us at ease without words.

“Let’s talk about this,” Joe says.   {talk about Jesus he means.}

– – – Today Jesus enters our room at chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel.

While Joe was talking, painting the scene, my brain (and heart) was being beckoned into these Jesus moments in front of us. I want to know Him. “What will we see today, Jesus?”

I love studying the Gospel of Mark. It has been my passion for the last several months as our study group moves paragraph by paragraph through the Story. Why is this so good? Because we are getting to know Jesus better. We are being drawn in to see a breathing, sighing, sweating Jesus… not a Barbie doll Jesus, but a munching, drinking, spiting, walking dusty roads Jesus.

Joe leads us from Jesus feeding 4,000 plus hungry people to Jesus getting exasperated with – guess who? – the Pharisees and to Jesus warning His disciples about the lure of pompous religiosity. Yeast Jesus calls it (or ‘leaven’ as it reads in the runes of kayjayveeish) cause it first comes in quietly and subtly and before you know it the yeast takes over the whole loaf (synagogue, church, small group, whatever). Not good.

Then, bamm!

Jesus the Riddler, a playful Jesus, interrupts this serious sequence of events.

“Did you get it? Did you see what I did?” Jesus asks, as though waiting for his friends to get the punch line. Blank stares. Silence. They’re on a different wave length. Too bad.

Here’s the set up from Mark’s pov (in chapter 8 verses 16-21, the Message).

* * *

Meanwhile, the disciples were finding fault with each other because they had forgotten to bring bread.

Jesus overheard and said, “Why are you fussing because you forgot bread?

Don’t you see the point of all this? Don’t you get it at all? Remember the five loaves I broke for the five thousand?  How many baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”

They said, “Twelve.”

“And the seven loaves for the four thousand—how many bags full of leftovers did you get?”

“Seven.”

He said, “Do you still not get it?”

* * *

What do you do with your leftovers? Do you just toss ‘em or do you get professional help? Who is your leftovers guru? Emeril? Julia? The Barefoot Contessa? Rachael Ray has a recipe for using leftover brewed coffee in your chili. “It brings out the flavor of the beans,” she says. Really?

What does Jesus do with leftovers?

Does it matter? I think it does. It occurs to me that I have flattened the meal (food for crowds of thousands) and the leftovers (remainders for the disciples) into telling much the same thing – like this, Jesus provides a meal for hungry people (that’s Jesus being kind to strangers) and Jesus makes enough food for leftovers (that’s Jesus being kind to His friends).

Or maybe these miracles are another proof that Jesus is God because He can plant, grow, harvest, mix the dough, raise it, bake it and deliver the bread with a flick of the wrist…on the spot?

“So, Christian, learn from this. Trust Jesus and be kind. Follow Messiah and help the poor.”

True that, but again, what is Jesus saying with His leftovers? He is not only helping people in great need. Jesus is also having a little fun. Yes, that Jesus…the one juggling all those loaves of bread…over there with the smirk on his face…lining up the baskets. Everybody has had enough to eat now so where should we put the leftovers? Here are some empty baskets. How many?

…12 baskets over there {and later} …7 right here.

“Are you serious? Twelve and seven? Not eleven or thirteen, but twelve – not six or eight, but seven? Twelve and seven. That’s amazing! That’s hilarious! Just like a kid. He’s playing with His food…again.”

playfulness of Jesus

John Eldredge riffs on this theme – the playfulness of Jesus – in his book Beautiful Outlaw (good read btw). John makes me long to know this side of Jesus when he writes, “So, if you do not know Jesus as a person, know his remarkable personality – playful, cunning, fierce, impatient with all that is religious, kind, creative, irreverent, funny – you have been cheated…you have been robbed” (p. 12, emphasis original).

You may be still be wondering what is so playful about 12 baskets and 7 baskets. Think of this way. Suppose you are going to have a hundred people over for the 4th of July at your place (or a nearby park if your place is too small). Now it’s the night before. The place is ready. You’ve invited the guests. You’ve planned the food. You’ve got everything else ready to go and – get this – then you say to your spouse, “I know exactly how much we are going to have in leftovers tomorrow after the event.”

“Uh?”

“Yeah, we are going to have precisely – after everyone has gone home – precisely 13 one quart containers.”

“Thirteen?”

“You don’t get it? Thirteen as in 13 original American colonies?”

{thy spouse giveth thee a blank stare}

Jesus is not just making a whole a lot of food in which there just happens to be – by serendipity – 12 baskets and later 7 baskets. This was no random act. Jesus made exactly enough food to feed 5,000 people, 4,000 people and exactly enough so there would be 12 baskets and 7 baskets leftover, no more, no less, precisely 12 and precisely 7.

Why did He do this? He was trying to send a message to His disciples. In a playful way. Jesus was using two numbers with obvious symbolic importance to any Jewish guy – twelve and seven – to say something about their future and His future and their future together.

“Ah, now I get it. 12 tribes and 7 days of Creation. But is that all?”

No, there’s more. If we think of a symbol or a metaphor as a pointer, like road signs that point which way to go, then let’s ask how these two numbers, 12 and 7, point to something important about Jesus…and us.

12 – a sign of God’s presence in a people He calls His own (first seen in the 12 tribes of Israel)

7 – a sign of God’s perfect goodness on mankind (first seen in the 7 days of Creation)

In symbols Jesus is telling His disciples I am going to revive Israel (the 12 tribes) in you, the 12 disciples. In the number 7 Jesus is telling His disciples that “you all, my disciples and I, are going to bring in My divine goodness and spread it across the world…like I tried to do at the very beginning.”

{btw – this is not gematria. that’s different.}

Yes, 12 and 7 have Jewish significance, of course. I am reminded of the Passover riddleechad mi yodea, that uses numbers to teach important truths about the ways of God.

It’s a playful riddle Jesus was folding inside these miracles. Yes, Jesus is interested in helping us with our short term problems and needs. But, this riddle tells us that Jesus is doing something much bigger. He is building a people for Himself and He wants His redeeming goodness to keep spreading across the world.

The bread Jesus made has been eaten and is gone, but…

His redeeming goodnesses – Gospel leftovers – are still piling up.

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