“A man came to Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God, twenty barley loaves made from the firstfruits, and fresh grain in the ear. Elisha said, ‘Give it to the people to eat.’ But his servant objected, ‘How can I set this before a hundred people?’ Elisha insisted, ‘Give it to the people to eat. For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’ And when they had eaten, there was some left over, as the Lord had said.” (II Kings 4:22-44)
The books of First and Second Kings were originally one book which recounted the history of Israel from the reign of Solomon through several hundred years of decline until its final end in exile and destruction. They contain glorious stories of nobility, heroism, and faithfulness interspersed with the sad tales of corruption and idolatry that would eventually bring about Israel’s demise. All throughout, however, God is present leading his people, offering his grace, and warning them of their doom if sin continued. His spokesmen in this time were the prophets–those who said to Israel, “Thus Says The Lord!”–among whom the two greatest were Elijah and his successor, Elisha, whom we find in today’s passage.
This is one of four vignettes in chapter four of II Kings in which Elisha performs a miracle in order to demonstrated the validity of his prophetic claim. It is a story we might be quick to consider inconsequential for modern readers except that when we read it we are strangely reminded of another occurrence almost a millennium later when another group of hungry people, this time 5000, gathered around another teacher, Our Lord. Barley loaves and fish were brought to him, this time only five loaves. His disciples protested, just as Elisha’s, that it wouldn’t be enough. Nevertheless he insisted the food be distributed and, just as occurred with Elisha, there was more than enough, causing people to realize,”This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” (John 6:1-15)
Clearly the story of Elisha is a foreshadowing, even a hidden prophecy, of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. It is one of the signs of the coming of the Great Prophet, and more than a prophet, the very Son of God.
However, the story has something to say in its own right as well, even though it may seem obscure at first. I particularly am drawn to the sentence which comes directly from God:
“They shall eat and there shall be some left over.”
This is no small thing. This is how it always is with God. His grace is not just sufficient, it is abundant. There is always some left over. When he sets a table, it is a banquet. When he pours the wine, “my cup runneth over”. His gifts are not miserly but lavish. It is his pleasure to pour out blessing. This we must know and claim in every corner of our lives and every day of our lives. Yes, we face grave difficulties and hard times, but we must know that his promise is for us: “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.” As Jesus himself said, “Fear not, little flock, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give……”(Luke 12:32)
In church this Sunday we sang the marvelous hymn, There Is a Wideness in God’s Mercy. I thought, even as we were singing, it was a beautiful expression of the generous love of God which fit perfectly with this passage and our need to realize and live in that love:“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea; There’s a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty. For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at his word And our lives would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord Troubled souls, why will you scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep? Foolish hearts why will you wander from a love so true and deep? There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good There is mercy with the Savior. There is healing in His blood.
All of this is most powerfully realized in the Eucharist which not only illustrates, but is the summit of His abundant grace. We come to him hungry and in need. We present to him the little we have, a little bread, a little wine, and he gives them back to us as His own living presence, His body, blood, soul, and divinity. We feast on grace. We feast on Him. Abundance.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul seems to spontaneously explode in praise to the God who always gives beyond sufficiency, beyond even abundance. My prayer is that this may become the praise of each of us as we come to know, more and more, the generosity of our loving God:
“Now to Him, who by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus both now and forever more!”(Ephesians 3:20)
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.