11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.
12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."
The miracle of the loaves and fishes is often cited as one of Jesus' greatest examples of the providence of God. Jesus feeds thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, the foodstuff multiplying as the disciples hand it out. Everyone eats their fill, and afterward, the disciples gather up the scraps and fill twelve baskets with what remains. The miracle of feeding five thousand is recorded in all four of the Gospels, and the ending is told very much the same. But only in the Gospel of the apostle John do we get the instruction from our Lord seen in the verses above.
Whenever I read about Jesus feeding the five thousand, I always think about how bread is often equated with the Word of God. (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4, Matthew 6:11 etc.) What always strikes me is that it is not Jesus who actually hands out the bread and fish to everyone, it is the disciples who hand them out. And it is the disciples who gather the scraps. In a metaphorical sense, Jesus has passed on His Word and His gospel so that His disciples can feed and tend the flock. (John 21:15-17) And here in the Gospel of John, He has directed His disciples to gather the fragments that remain, "so that nothing is lost."
One of the dangers of contemporary liberal theology is that the Bible is re-interpreted for the modern age through the lens of contemporary social beliefs. And if something in the Bible doesn't match with modern morality, then those verses are tossed aside as useless, explained away as historical artifacts or else as man-made intrusions upon the perfect Word of God. But if this Bible we have truly is the Word of God, then does it not stand to reason that He would protect it from such inclusions, that the Holy Spirit would prevent such "historical anomalies" and human interpolation? We can see that the Bible is internally consistent--even in the way the New Testament writers reference "inconvenient" verses from the Old Testament about sexual immorality and about idolatry. And since we can see that the Bible is indeed so self-supporting, can we not see that God has put such "inconvenient" verses exist in the Bible for a reason?
My point here today is not to engage in theological debates over modern church doctrines that support immorality. What I want to point out is that Jesus told us in today's verses to leave no fragments lying around, that ALL of the bread of God's Word should be gathered and preserved so that none of it is wasted. If we cherry-pick the Bible to support our own views, or if we reinterpret the Bible through our own social priorities, then we are fragmenting that which is meant to be whole.
In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus and the disciples take something small and seemingly insignificant and make it something nourishing and grand. They dole out the sustenance of the day to each as is needed, and then they gather up much more than that with which they began. Such is the Word of God, that it accomplishes what God has set it to do and does not return void. (Isaiah 55:11) Those twelve baskets returned FULL, and the disciples were directed to make sure nothing was left behind. That way, when the time came, they could feed more people with the Word of God, and as the gospel spread from hand to hand, person to person, then the baskets would always be full and ready to use the next time.
In our modern age, we must remember to leave nothing of the gospel behind, let none of it be lost in the name of political correctness or making our church and message "seeker-friendly." Jesus didn't leave anything out, so why should we? Paul didn't flinch from calling a spade a spade and living in chains for what he said, so why should we? Peter didn't hesitate to remind people that they would suffer for the gospel, so why should we? Jesus and His disciples left no part of God's Word just lying on the hillside as they went on to another place. They brought the whole Word everywhere they went, and they suffered for it because people hate the conviction brought to them by the gospel of Christ. Wherever they preached, God's Word was whole and healthy and it accomplished what God sent it to do.
Therefore, as disciples ourselves, we must not leave any of the Word of God behind. Let us gather up all the fragments that expediency and false gospels have left scattered about. Let us never hesitate to share the whole Word--especially the seemingly "inconvenient" parts--so that those who hear are both convicted and uplifted by the true gospel of the kingdom of God. Let us take the Bible into the hard places, speaking the hard truths, and ready to face hard persecution. And wherever we go, let the Word of God be proclaimed with boldness and authority, in all its glory, so that nothing--and NO ONE--is lost.
Blessed Father, with the Psalmist I would ask that Your Word would be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I pray, Lord, that Your Word would shine in all its completeness on my whole life, illuminating the path in front of me and also showing me the things of which I need to repent. I do not wish the easy gospel, Father, but the WHOLE gospel, the one that leaves nothing behind, the one true Word that is convicting and hopeful. Continue to bless us all, Lord God, with Your holy Word, and as we share it with others, may we never lose any part of the precious Bible You have given us. Amen.