“Gathering up the fragments”

“So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten” (John 6:12-13 NKJV).

In Bangladesh when tables are set for meals, there are usually extra plates set out (about one for each 2-4 people). When I first began traveling there that puzzled me, but as we ate, their purpose became plain. Those were the “bone plates” onto which each diner would discard any bones, gristle or other inedible residue of his or her food.

It is rare to complete a meal without some kind of leavings. It may be inedible portions of a meat dish, the crust of a pizza (but to some of us “that is the best part”), or simply odd bits that we cannot easily capture on a fork. Few meals fail to produce some amount of waste. That is easy enough to clean up after the eating is finished, but during a meal, polite guests may struggle to deal with the bone from a pork chop or similar large scraps. The bone plate easily solves that problem.

It is not just eating that produces waste. As we proceed through life, there are many ways in which our activities generate scrap material. Hurtful words leave resentments. Thoughtless actions cause unnecessary pain to those whom we love. Impulsive purchases create debt and sabotage budgets. The list is virtually endless.

Obviously prevention of such is better than efforts to repair damage. Unfortunately, we will not prevent all of them, therefore it is important that we develop methods of garbage disposal in our relationships and daily lives, just as we do for the food scraps and other waste generated in our homes.

John’s words in 1 John 1:8-2:2 remind us that we all sin (create waste) and that our sins are removed by the blood of Christ when we confess them and ask for forgiveness. That is God’s ultimate removal service, the divine “Bone Plate” if you will. No sin need be left unrepented or unforgiven. We have one who cleans up after us (1 John 1:9) if we will trust and follow him. But let us not forget the corollary, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Confession of and repentance from sin includes abandoning waste-producing life-styles.

But the idea of removing waste is given a different twist in the story of Jesus’ miracle of feeding five thousand (John 6:1-14). There, after the great multitude ate to their fill, the Lord instructed the twelve to gather up the fragments “so that nothing is lost” (Verse 12).

All too often we leave one phase of our lives, or one event, without utilizing all the opportunities and resources which were provided for us. Not all that is thrown in the garbage is useless. The bone plate and the garbage can are intended for the inedible things we find in the food; not for excess that we took out because “our eyes were bigger than our stomach.”

Among many other lessons in the miracle story, we are reminded by Jesus’ words to live efficiently, making use of all that God provides. Every word spoken should count for good (Ephesians 4:29). Every action and interaction should help ourselves and others (Galatians 6:10; Colossians 3:17, 23) and bring glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Whether it is our energy, talent, possessions, or time, let us strive to prevent anything useful from being lost.

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