Both the reading from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel reading from John in today’s lectionary provide us rich food for thought.
Throughout these post-Easter weeks, the lectionary has portrayed how the first Christian communities were being formed from the preaching of those witnessing to the Resurrection of Christ. "Witness," both as a noun and as a verb, is one of the strongest words used in the post-Resurrection accounts to describe the activity of these first proclaimers of the Resurrection of Christ. In today’s first reading, the Pharisee Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin Council, counsels the Assembly to a "hands-off" posture toward these followers of Jesus (although they will receive a flogging before being dismissed). For him, it is the reasonable and, at the same time, astute way to defuse the tensions building between the public following which the disciples of Jesus are generating, and the interests of the Temple leadership. It is a dramatic narrative.
In the Gospel passage, we are treated once again to this Eucharistic narrative of John’s sixth Chapter, which begins, around the time of the Passover, with the miracle of the loaves and the feeding of 5,000 people. The rest of the chapter builds through the discourse on the "Bread of Life" with its declaration that "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you," and then concludes with Jesus’ challenging question, "Will you also go away?" Peter’s profession of faith is modulated by the reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.
One expression caught my eye, and I spent some time drawing out the meaning of Jesus’ caution, after all had eaten, to collect the fragments, "so that nothing will be wasted."
This sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is explicitly his effort to bring the Eucharist out of the setting in a ritual meal for a Jewish feast (Passover, the Last Supper), and to place it under the skies, on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, among an assembly whose connections to Jesus would include some very faithful disciples, some curious followers, and perhaps even some ne’er do well hangers-on.
By the time that John’s sixth chapter is redacted, much has already happened to the community of Jesus’ followers. They have seen the coming and the going of disciples, they have known the ultimate test of martyrdom ("witnessing"), and they continue to carry out Jesus’ command to them, "Go, and make disciples of all nations…."
When Jesus’ words, "so that nothing will be wasted," are scripted, I find it interesting that unlike our English "waste", which can be an indifferent attention to little things, an "oversight", the Greek word used in John’s text is of a very different character. It means more than the careless indifference to a remnant from a meal. It is a very strong word that connotes the utter destruction or the perishing of something or someone. Jesus is alert and asks us to be alert when we share the body and blood of Christ, "so that nothing [no one] will perish."
This can give us encouragement and hope. As members of Christ’s body by baptism, we nourish our life in Christ through the Eucharist. Some members of the body of Christ may be overwhelmed by discouragement, by failure, by illness, by betrayal. These are all part of the human experience, they are part of the experience of any Ecclesial body at any time; it is what we are when we come to Mass on Sunday. To us, Jesus says, When you come together for the Eucharist, see that all are nourished, provide for those who need special care, and look around at those whom you might otherwise overlook, gather them in, lest they be lost (perish) although in our very midst.
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Missions for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.