“Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.”
There’s no doubt Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, as recorded in the Gospel of John, is intended to invoke Israel’s wandering in the wilderness and living off the manna which came from heaven. Of course, Jesus is lifting the meaning of the feeding to something new, bursting the old wine skins of the old event, and making something wholly different.
He reveals Himself as a newer and more powerful Moses, the “prophet” Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18. He teaches the true bread He gives doesn’t just satisfy hunger, but the true hunger we have, the hunger and thirst for righteousness, satisfied only by His flesh and blood.
With this in mind, we need to use the episode of Israel in the wilderness to guide us in understanding all the other details of John’s account. This is especially helpful in understanding the “fragments that remain.”
Those who know the “rules” for gathering manna in the original account know that typically nothing was to remain. God was teaching Israel to trust each day that He would give them their daily bread. “Let no one leave any of it till morning.” There were no “fragments that remain.” And those who disobeyed this rule woke up to stinking, rotting bread.
However, on Friday the rule was relaxed, because the Sabbath was at hand when no one would work. The Lord provided enough for everyone to collect for two days. On this day, then, they would in fact of “fragments that remain” for the Sabbath.
Understanding this, interpreting Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 falls right in place. What were those twelve baskets of “fragments that remain” intended for? Clearly, for a Sabbath Day. If Jesus is truly the “bread from heaven,” and this bread is His flesh, more interesting details fall into place.
Was there a Sabbath Day on which Jesus, the bread of life, did not decay, but became the “bread of life” for His people? This sounds a lot like Jesus resting on the Sabbath in the tomb, about which St. Peter on Pentecost says, “nor did His flesh see corruption.”
Jesus is inaugurating a new Sabbath on which His flesh would be distributed to a “new twelve,” for there were twelve baskets of “fragments that remain.”
Especially in the Gospel of John, there are suggestions of a New Sabbath to cap off a New Creation. Consider the following verses:
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (But if it was declared by Moses that God finished His work on the sixth day, why continue working? Clearly Adam did something to undo God’s work, and God had to “come out of retirement” so to speak.)
“My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (Yup, because Adam undid His first work. Notice Jesus assumes the nature of the One who works, God. For He is of one substance with the Father.)
“For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” (Ah, a clue about what work needed to be done. “Dust to dust” undid the work. Jesus raising from the dead undoes that.)
“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (Clearly a reference to the creation account; God stopped working when day was over.)
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (Jesus “finished” the work when He said, “It is finished.” But by this point He had instituted the Lord’s Supper, which is the cross administered in time prior and after the cross, of which “we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” He was administering “It is finished” at the Last Supper, even as He administers “It is finished” at Holy Communion for us today.)
“It is finished.” (Yes, this is the true completion of the creation. And given the previous verse where Jesus says He “had” finished the work – and that this was an administration of the completed event in time prior to the actual act – might we consider that when it was said God finished the creation on the sixth day, this was in lieu of Christ’s proclamation from the cross, “It is finished, administered in time on the sixth day?”)
So, Jesus finished the creation really, which makes Him author of the Sabbath Day, just as He said, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” What of this Sabbath Day? It’s the day He provided for 12 baskets of extra bread, so that the ones to whom each apostle was sent – you and me – might be provided for, that we might enjoy the ultimate completion of the Lord’s labors, the new creation.
Like Israel, we still await entrance into the Promised Land, but also like Israel, this bread in the wilderness is a “foretaste of the feast to come,” a foretaste of the milk and honey.
Nothing was lost. Twelve baskets full of nothing lost. Twelve apostles of whom Jesus said, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” Save Judas, but His office was filled by another, because at the end of the day, Jesus wasn’t establishing persons, but offices in the apostolic ministry. And today, inheritors of the Twelve continue to feed Israel on the new Sabbath with the bread of life, the flesh and blood of Jesus.