We all have our own experiences and thoughts about leftovers. After sharing a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas feast, a Fourth of July barbeque, or just an everyday meal, we have to decide what to do with any leftovers.
Some people lock up leftovers in airtight plastic containers. Some people put leftovers on display in a clear ziplock bag. Some people shroud leftovers with a blanket of aluminum foil. Some people show leftovers to the door by putting them in the hands of family and friends. Some people throw leftovers away.
We all have our own experiences and thoughts about leftovers including Jesus. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus feeds a large crowd and then directs his disciples to gather the fragments left over so that nothing is wasted.
On the upcoming Fourth of July holiday let’s consider how the feeding of a large number of people as well as the food leftover from our own celebration directs our attention to the generous abundance given to us by God.
In his article, “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity,” Walter Brueggemann draws from a variety of scripture passages to give us a sense of God’s abundant generosity. In his article, Brueggemann points out that God created the world to be fruitful and that God has sustained that fruitfulness at all times.
In the gospel of John alone, we see the liturgy of abundance. In the first chapter, the gospel writer speaks about Jesus as the Word from whose fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The first sign is when water is turned into wine at a wedding reception in Cana. There is abundance not merely of wine but of good wine. Then at a community well, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman about living water gushing up to eternal life. Everywhere Jesus goes, the world is blessed with God’s generosity: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are freed from debt. At the end of the gospel, we read that in addition to the things we have been told, there is so much more that could be told if only the world had the space to accommodate it. Whether it is wine at a wedding, living water in a well, or food for a multitude, there is always more than enough, a huge supply of God’s abundant generosity.
But Brueggemann contrasts the scripture stories of God’s abundance with the “myth of scarcity” in our American culture. A myth that is lived out by our American consumer society that assures us that “there’s not enough,” and that we need to get whatever we can, from whomever we can, whenever we can. We need to supersize and everything so to speak. The myth of scarcity claims that money has become a type ofnarcotic and consumerism has moved beyond being a market strategy to become a kind of “demonic force” in our American culture.In practical terms, the myth of scarcity is told when we see people liningup outside stores on Thanksgiving Day to rush in for deals on Black Friday morning. The myth of scarcity is retold when we hear the words, “limited number” and “a one of a kind item” during television commercials. The myth of scarcity becomes almost real when we hear commodity brokers speculate that the cost of gasoline and food prices will rise, so we stock up.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States proclaim the abundant freedom given by God to every human being. But sadly because of our abundant freedom, the myth of scarcity has been told and retold in different ways at different times. Human beings were bought, are bought, were sold and are sold like a commodity. Land was taken from Native Americans. The Statue of Liberty once welcomed immigrants to America but now gates, fences, and patrols confront immigrants. Because Americans have the freedom to bear guns, lives of school children are taken.
I believe that on the Fourth of July Americans are thankful for our freedom and the woman and men who died for it and who now protect it. But “With great freedom comes great responsibility,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt. Perhaps, just perhaps “responsibility” is like leftovers that while part of an original meal are put away or discarded.
Fr. Bob Kelly