For five years, my now-husband and I coordinated dinner every Wednesday night for an eclectic, ever-changing group of people. Other small groups in our church broke ice to begin their evenings; we broke bread, naan and poppadoms. It wasn’t always an easy undertaking. There were the nights when someone couldn’t cook last minute, leading to a flurry of frantic texts. Some evenings we delightedly welcomed last-minute guests and discreetly reshuffled plate portions. And there were the times someone served an extravagant, used-every-pan-in-the-cupboard feast, leaving us with a (I confess not always graciously undertaken) two-hour clear up job the next day.
Despite the occasional frustrations, we continued with our food rota because our experience was that meals together were the best ice breaker – a great leveller between generations, professions and backgrounds. Around the dinner table or knee-balanced plates, barriers fall away from conversations and friendships are formed.
Jesus knew this. He related to people over food. Those around him did not always understand this. Jesus said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” Luke 7:34. Those around him questioned his relationship with food, and those whom shared he it with. But Jesus knew that food itself is a sign of God’s grace, and eating together is an opportunity for relationship, for deepening community.
In fact, feasting is a picture we see throughout the Bible. It’s a glorious expression of God’s kingdom: a meal where the invitation is open to all and the food never stops flowing. The feeding of the 5,000 is a picture of this. It’s interesting that this demonstration of God’s sufficiency is the only miracle, apart from the resurrection, to be told in all four gospels. We never quite reached that number in our small group (although Christmas dinner for 20 just four days before our wedding felt like quite an achievement) but our experience was that there always was enough.
In fact, with God, there’s often more than enough.
The miracle of the 5,000 didn’t stop with the feeding. After everyone had eaten their fill, Jesus told the disciples to collect what was left.
“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” (John 6:12)
The excess mattered to Jesus too. The collection of the leftovers is often missed from this very familiar story. God’s abundant provision did not make the food any less valuable. In times of plenty, every piece still matters.
We find another well-known picture of sufficiency in the Bible: the daily provision of manna for the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert. God told His people He would provide daily. They were to collect only what they needed for that day; any leftovers would spoil. His provision was greater than their need, but they were to learn obedience and to trust that He would give enough, again and again. It’s interesting that it was impossible for the manna to last longer than a day; the Israelites were told to collect enough for two days the day before the Sabbath, their day of rest. The key thing was not any physical limitations of the manna, but a deepening of people’s obedience and trust in God’s provision for each day. In His sufficiency. He is the one who is enough.
What does this mean for us today? It means we can recognise food is a sign of God’s grace. It is not just consumed, but actively enjoyed. This is part of valuing food; delighting in it for all its variety and fullness of flavour. We can share this feast with others.
It means we can trust in enough. We can be secure in God’s provision, not in overstocked kitchen shelves. We can take the Renew Our World pledge, committing to enjoy all of our food, letting nothing be wasted. When we see food as part of God’s glorious provision, we value every piece. Even the leftovers.