01May 1st May. Tuesday of the 4th Week of Easter

Acts 11:19ff. Barnabas goes to Antioch and sees the grace of God at work.

John 10:22ff. The works that Jesus does show him as the Saviour in whom we must trust.

Pastoring, with the Good Shepherd

On this “Labour Day”, the first of May, our Gospel invites us to think about a specific kind of work within the Church: that of pastoring the flock. The initiative to undertake this challenging and privileged form of work must come from God, as a vocation. Through Jesus God speaks our name and we follow Him, to receive eternal life, and through him we are caught up into the Holy Trinity, united with Father and Spirit; as Jesus says: “The Father and I are one.”

When he speaks our name, Jesus reaches into the depths of our person and proclaims who we really are, in our hopes and ideals, and the mystery of our life. In the Bible, to be given a name announces a vocation from God, that reaches into the future, in fact right into eternity. Jesus, therefore, puts energy into our hidden reserves of life, gives direction to our talents; he speaks our name in such a way that it draws us into eternity.

No one can snatch one of his sheep out of his hand. When such an intimate bond is established by God’s initiative, we are absorbed in it, not as something alien to ourselves; we are not reduced to slavery. Rather, we are caught because Jesus speaks what is most genuine about ourselves and what is most valued about our future.

Jesus speaks these profound words about the mystery of life and the wonder of its eternal existence in answer to a question put to him by the crowd in the Temple. They had said abruptly demanded, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are really the Messiah, tell us so in plain words.”

Yet, how can Jesus speak something as intimate as a person’s name under such circumstances? These words from the crowd border on the sarcastic. They intrude upon the privacy of Jesus. Questions like these prevent him from drawing the people into the mystery of themselves as created and dreamed by God. The people are rejecting mystery; they want a plain, practical answer. Yes or No! Are you the Messiah? If you are, then when can we begin the revolt against Rome? But he wants to speak a word that touches the mystery of our lives and our future. He can do this only if we allow him the space to be gentle and gracious, probing and contemplative.

These same qualities characterize the great apostle Barnabas, canonized a saint even during his lifetime by these words in Acts: “he was a good man filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.” Elsewhere, Luke had interpreted his name to mean “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Originally named Joseph, he was called Barnabas most probably because of his encouraging style of faith. This openness of Barnabas to God’s gifts induced him to search for Paul and to bring him to Antioch. Had it not been for Barnabas, Paul may have been lost and buried in the silent sands of some private desert! Taking a cue from the gospel, we can say that through Barnabas, Jesus called his sheep “Paul” by name and led him into a career that was to transform the missionary side of Christianity and thereby the very nature of the Church.

This spread of the Church came about, first, as a reaction to the violent persecution of the Church at Jerusalem. This danger to life caused many of the disciples to flee to gentile territory. Through them a great impact was made upon the Jewish community at Antioch where many joined the disciples and became known, for the first time, as “Christians.” This movement from violence to peace, and the reinforcement of this peace through the gentle encouragement of Barnabas, enabled Jesus to gather many more “sheep” into discipleship.

We need to ask ourselves, do we show the gentleness which allows others to hear, through us, their names spoken by Jesus? Are we instruments helping our family and neighbours, our friends at work or in other associations, to perceive the wonder of themselves as dreamed by God? Can they begin to look into their future with a sense of joy of the wonder that lies ahead?

First Reading: Acts 11:19-26

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 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.”

Gospel: John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”