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Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Miracle of the Broken Pieces

A familiar story. Five loaves; two fish. A hungry crowd. Doubting disciples. A miracle. Yet perhaps the miracle was not even in the feeding of the five thousand. Perhaps the miracle was in the broken pieces.

The disciples had just returned from a mission trip, you could say. Jesus had commissioned them to preach and heal, sending them out to the villages. When they returned, they told Jesus everything and He took them to Bethsaida. It appears from the verses in Luke 9 that Jesus wanted to spend some time quietly with His disciples but soon the crowds found and followed Him. Never impatient, He welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured (vs. 11).

When the disciples mention a need to feed all the people and Jesus tells them to provide the food, their reply seems one of indignation. How can they feed thousands of people with the small provisions they have unless they go and buy more food? After days of working miracles through Jesus' power, they doubt His ability to provide enough food for a simple meal of fish and bread.

We all know that Jesus blessed the fish and bread, broke the bread into pieces and gave the food to the disciples to distribute. There is depth of thought there also, that God gives us the blessings and expects us to pass them on to others so He can multiply those blessings through us. It's like church potluck when the food doesn't run out with 50 unexpected international guests. Or like one of my good friends who is constantly feeding others and giving things to those in need while God meets all her needs in perfect timing.

This isn't what caught my eye though. Valid points, yes. Theologically sound, yes. A lesson for us today, yes. Everyone ate til they were satisfied and in the same way, God provides for our needs and doesn't leave us waiting. But as I read the final sentence, I stopped. The disciples gathered up all the leftovers. Twelve baskets of broken pieces (vs. 17)

You would think Jesus would have calculated just exactly enough to feed everyone without any left over. After all, leftovers just go to waste, right? You would also think that Jesus would have kept magically multiplying whole loaves so that when everyone was full there would be entire loaves lying around if there were going to be leftovers. Pieces of bread dry out quicker, especially if it's the flat bread that is common in the Middle East. We always wrap the bag tight to make sure it doesn't dry out otherwise within 30 minutes the bread has turned to a thin hard cracker.

Often Jesus did things that didn't make sense to the people or His disciples. In this instance, they may not have even thought about the spiritual implications of broken bread. The layers to this story, though, are many. Later in Luke, Jesus Himself breaks bread at the Last Supper and hands it to His disciples. This time He isn't asking them to pass on the bread to a crowd; He is feeding them. At the same time that He is meeting their physical need for food, He is echoing His calling to this earth. He solemnly instructs them to eat the bread in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19).

The bread becomes a symbol of Jesus' soon-to-be death. The bread reminds us, then and now when we take Communion, that Jesus' body was broken in spirit and in reality for our wholeness. A spear pierced His side and a deep sadness pierced His soul when He believed that His Father had forsaken Him. Yet despite the incredible physical pain and the even-harsher emotional pain, Jesus determined to continue til the end so victory would be realized.

I don't think the disciples knew then what the 12 baskets of broken pieces really meant. In passing the broken bread to them, Jesus was commissioning them to share the gospel with the world. He had already minted them through the practical application of ministry in preaching and healing. Now, He had performed a miracle to strengthen their faith. At the same time, His quiet example was spreading a foundation for when He would no longer be with them. There were 12 disciples and 12 baskets. Each disciple had a calling to take the Word of God from Jesus and function as a vessel to pass on the good news to whomever was open to hearing.

In sharing the broken pieces, Jesus was offering wholeness. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand this but it would take them time. The same gift is offered to me today. While the broken pieces of bread may seem like second-best, they are perfect for God's plan. He wants to use me, a broken person, to take the gospel to others.

Did you notice that the broken pieces weren't left on the hillside to be eaten by the birds? They were gathered up and carefully put into baskets to be eaten in the future. Similarly, God doesn't reject me because I'm broken. He carefully gathers me close, keeping me near His heart, until there is opportunity to be used for Him. There is a mentality out there among Christians that if you have any problems, you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over it. You're supposed to be perfect. If you're anything less than that, you're not good enough for God and if you even confess to something, you need to figure out how to deal with it within 24 hours.

I have learned that God doesn't work that way. He knows I am a fragile person (Psalm 103:14). Instead of expecting me to measure up, God sees my brokenness and has compassion on me. He holds me close and extends healing through loved ones and experiences personalized just for me so I see how much He loves me.

Each basket had a purpose. I have a purpose. A broken piece of bread may seem useless but one day someone will be hungry and need to eat it for sustenance. Giving the gift of bread, even if it is broken, encourages the receiver. In the same way, sharing Jesus' love with others encourages those who hear. I'm a broken piece, I'm not perfect, and I often feel like I'm just sitting and waiting for God to use me, but because I'm broken, I can receive broken bread, or the Word of God, and pass it on to others. If I was perfect, Jesus wouldn't need to do a miracle with me. What astounding mercy!

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