The leftovers

THERE ARE TWO TYPES of people: those who don’t know where their next meal will come from and those who own Tupperware.

Below our oven is a supersized drawer with Tupperware spilling out. Recently, all that Tupperware was used to capture leftovers from the feast of injera and wat (Ethiopian food) my mother prepared for my daughter Shepherd’s baptism.

I think the Tupperware is always brought out too soon. Meals like this compromise my ability to fight with my brother Siega over how the leftovers will be divided. My stomach has expanded enough to make breathing difficult and talking out of the question. Sleep seems imperative. There is just enough brain activity left to know the Tupperware will appear shortly.

My brother has many gifts, but he is best known in our family for his skill at securing leftovers after family meals. His technique is so advanced that he brings his own Tupperware.

At my daughter’s party I thought I could take the day off since Siega was four states away in New Orleans, but he sent an early-morning text message to our other brother Philipos, asking that his portion of the leftovers be set aside for him to pick up when he returned.

In my family, it wasn’t always necessary to be paranoid about leftovers. We never went hungry, but there was a time when the only thing left over after a meal was dirty dishes. With four boys in the house, it wasn’t easy for my parents to keep the pantry stocked. Back then we fought for the big piece of chicken. Now we have leftovers.

The Gospel writers introduce us to some people who don’t have Tupperware. When Jesus feeds the multitude, not a single person in the “crowd” is given a name and we’re not told where they live. That’s typical for the type without Tupperware. There are 925 million of them in our world who will go to sleep hungry tonight. For most of us, it’s easier to call them a crowd than it is to recall any of their names or where they live.

For three days, the types without Tupperware fixed their eyes on Jesus. His fame had spread by this point, but they hadn’t come for his cooking. No one had promised them a handout, but they came anyway to be near the itinerant preacher known for miraculous healing and for proclaiming himself the Son of God. It may have been their curiosity that brought them near. Maybe it was the seaside location. We know that it wasn’t the food.

The miracle of stretching a small portion of loaves and fishes receives most of the attention in this story. But it may not be the most instructive element. Have you noticed that the crowd returns the leftovers at the end of the meal? Mark’s Gospel says there were enough leftovers to fill five baskets.

Relative to the types without Tupperware in this miracle story, we are filthy rich. They were preoccupied with finding their next meal. Our preoccupation is what to do with the leftovers.

Then again, we’re not all that different from them. Sure, we’re better prepared when we travel. But I think we’re just as desperate to see Jesus. Like them, we need to brush up against him, hear his voice, feast at his table. I think that’s why the crowd remained nameless. It’s an invitation for us to find our own place among the hungry and the hurting who are so desperate to catch a glimpse of God that they forget to pack food.

We are promised a feast when we see God. Still, one question remains: what will we do with the leftovers?


AMOS DISASA is organizing pastor of Downtown Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C.