Is There a Lesson in the Leftovers from the 5,000 That Jesus Fed?

Contributing Writer
Is There a Lesson in the Leftovers from the 5,000 That Jesus Fed?

Undoubtedly many have heard this passage of Scripture found in John 6:1-15 before. This is the story where Jesus feeds the multitude, the five thousand.

What a miracle to perform. I cannot imagine trying to feed that many people. No doubt there are quite a few folks out there who would find that a daunting task. Can you see five thousand people coming through your door, walking to the dining room, either trying to find a place to sit or going around the table in a buffet style? It gets fairly hectic around our house on Thanksgiving.

A Different Meal

The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 reminds me of eating in the Navy. When I was first in the Navy on board the ship, sailors had to stand in the chow line, and sometimes that line went up a flight of stairs to the upper level. When we finally reached the mess deck, we would grab a tray and tell the cooks what we wanted to eat.

I remember when I was first onboard the ship going through the line to have breakfast. I thought I would have something that would be quick to eat, like I was used to doing when I was teenager. I loved grits and an egg sandwich, so when it was my turn, I told the guy behind the counter that I wanted grits and an egg sandwich. Well, he proceeds to put a slice of bread on my plate, then he puts the fried egg on top of the slice of bread, and then a big spoonful of grits on top of the egg with the other slice of bread on top.

I did not ask for that meal ever again on board that ship.

What to Do with the Food?

But let us get to the story about feeding the five thousand. Have you ever wondered what the disciples did with all the leftovers? You know, the twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves and two fish, which remained over and above what the people had eaten?

They did not have refrigerators back then nor did they have plastic containers. So, what did they do with all that food and where did the baskets come from? Scripture does not say, but I would hazard a guess that all the remaining food was distributed out to other people that had not been there. Or maybe some of the people took it with them. Let’s break this story down, verse by verse.

Verse 5 – Trusting God

Jesus asked Philip where they could buy enough to feed the crowd, and in so doing, Jesus was testing Philip’s faith by asking for a human solution. The nearest town was approximately nine miles away (Bethsaida) and Philip looked at the cost. In this, Philip was being taught that financial resources are not always pivotal ones.

We hinder God from working in us by assuming what might be impossible or not. We should not let our appraisals of situations prohibit us from the task God wants us to perform. We need to trust God to provide whatever resources are needed to get the job done. (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:35; Luke 9:12; John 1:43)

Verse 9 – Give and Watch God

Andrew found a boy who had some food, but it was not enough. The disciples had food, but they were confused as to what to do. They knew that what they had could not feed so many, so they did not give anything. But the boy gave what he had, which turned out to be exactly right.

If we do not offer anything to God, He may not work. We are to humble ourselves, give what we have, and watch for what God can do with it (2 Kings 4:43-44).

Jesus took what the child had to offer and performed one of the greatest miracles of all time. We should not feel that we are too young nor too old for God to use us. When we come to Christ as a willing vessel for Him to use, wondrous things can occur.

Verse 11 – Abundance

Jesus blessed the food (1 Timothy 4:4-5), and it was passed around. There was so much that the basket of food never ran out. The way I read this, the people ate until they were full. The food was not portioned or rationed out (one slice of bread for you, one filet of fish for you). The basket stayed full. I can just imagine the disciples handing out the bread and fish. They looked in the basket and grabbed one of each and turned to give it to someone. Then when they looked back in the basket, there it was again! 

What would people do today if they saw that happen? Some would no doubt be singing praises to the Lord, but the way society is today, many would probably be greedy and try to hoard as much as they could get.

Verses 12-13 – No One Goes Hungry

Jesus tells the disciple to gather whatever remained. Twelve baskets were full of the leftovers of bread and fish. There was so much food left after feeding five thousand people. There may have been a multitude of people, but no one went hungry. 

What do some people in our society today do at a buffet? Do they leave food on their plate? Do they throw any food away? When sitting at the Lord’s table, you can partake of as much spiritual food as you can. It is like a buffet, but does anyone throw any of the spiritual leftovers away?

The Lesson in the Leftovers

Some people may worry about what they do not have when serving God. We are to serve Him with what we do have. Christ stated that He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), which means we will never go hungry. The physical needs of the people were met and then there was plenty extra to go around. When comparing this to our spiritual life, how much in our life is leftover spiritually?

Who were the disciples to say to the Bread of Life that there was not enough bread? When Jesus looked at the crowd, He had compassion. When the disciples looked at the crowd, they had complaints. What do we have?

God gives the abundance. He takes what we have to offer and multiplies its effectiveness. We are to take the first step by giving of ourselves. That means to make ourselves available for Him and He will show us the miracles that further the work for His kingdom.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/StefaNikolic


Chris SwansonChris Swanson answered the call into the ministry over 20 years ago. He has served as a Sunday School teacher, a youth director along with his wife, a music director, an associate pastor, and an interim pastor. He is a retired Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman with over 30 years of combined active and reserve service. You can contact Chris here, and check out his work here.