11 June, 2013. Tuesday. Feast of St. Barnabas, apostle
Acts 11:21ff; 13:1-3. The beginnings of the Church, in Antioch.
Matt. 10:7ff. Our Lord’s advice to his first missionaries.
Acts 11:21-26; 13:1-3
The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Gospel: Matthew 10:7-13
Jesus said to his apostles: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
Missionary to a Growing Church
Barnabas was one of the most vital, enthusiastic and mission-minded members of the early Church. St. Luke memorably describes him in glowing terms as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” A trusted confidant of the apostles and friend of both Peter and Paul, he shared his property with the poor, and his was the voice that won acceptance for the former persecutor, Saul/Paul, into the Christian community in Jerusalem. As he is portrayed in Acts, he had the sort of personality – unselfish, reliable, encouraging – that opened people’s hearts for the Gospel. We could call him an ideal ambassador for Christ, the perfect helper to be sent to support the growing church in Antioch.
Meanwhile, Saul/Paul had acted rashly by being too blunt in his preaching of the faith, in the synagogues to which he once had belonged. This led in his being sent by the apostolic circle back to his native Tarsus, into virtual exile, to cool his heels and learn to measure his speech to respect the volatile circumstances in Jerusalem. Still, Barnabas did not want Paul’s great gifts to be wasted, knowing how precious they would be within the young Christian community in Antioch. So – as Luke relates with relish – Barnabas brought Saul to Antioch where they instructed many in the faith, forming their Jewish and Gentile converts into what we may regard as the first truly “catholic” church. It was from this dynamic base in Antioch that the pair went out on the church’s first missionary journey, to Barnabas’ home island of Cyprus, and then further afield up into Asia Minor. The Church in later centuries has incorporated elements of the ordaining ceremony whereby the two missionaries were sent out BOTH by the Holy Spirit’s impulse AND by a ceremony of prayer and laying on of hands.
Our Gospel for the feast reports Jesus’ guidance to his twelve apostles, with all the urgency and goodwill that their mission required. They were to be zealous with the message and in the ministry of healing, and practice a sober, purposeful lifestyle, unconcerned for the trappings of wealth and status. How well Barnabas, and later Paul, measured up to those missionary requirements is well illustrated in their story as told by Luke, and then by Paul in his letters. Today’s feast serves to recall those qualities in Barnabas which gave such a boost to the Church in his time. With pastors like him, our Church could have a great revival. One hopes that the principal criterion for the selction of bishops today is simply this: “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”