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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

Feast of Barnabas the Apostle

June 11th in the Christian Calendar is St Barnabas Day and Christian denominations, including Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox, celebrate Barnabas – an early Christian who was instrumental in the growth and nurturing of the Church.

Barnabas was a saint who played a pivotal role in the early Church’s formation and evangelism. And one who, like Paul, did not know Christ in his earthly life, nevertheless was loved and appreciated by the Apostles.

His parents named him Joseph. Barnabas was a name that was probably given to him by the other apostles. It means “Son of Encouragement”, which tells us something about him and how he was seen by the other early Christians. In the Acts of the Apostles, he is described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”.

We are living in changing and challenging times ourselves. We don’t know how life will change as we face new difficulties – economic, societal, and clinical – in the years ahead. We wonder what changes face the Church, if its relevance will be further challenged. But we do know that its message of love and faithfulness, divine and human, will endure. Like St Barnabas himself, the reservoirs we will need to draw from include endurance, faithfulness, wisdom, and generosity of spirit, of time and money.

Our Gospel for the feast of Saint Barnabas 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.

Barnabas had a reputation in the early church for giving encouragement to others. We see him engaged in that ministry of encouragement in today’s reading from Acts 11:19-30. There was something new happening in the church of Antioch. The gospel had been preached to pagans as well as Jews for the first time. A new kind of church was emerging there, a church which was a mixture of Jews and non-Jews. Barnabas was sent down to take a look at what was happening, and he immediately recognised it as the work of the Lord and gave great encouragement to this new development. He was right; it was the work of the Lord.

The Lord is always at work in new and creative ways among us and it is a great gift to be able to recognise the work of the Lord wherever it is to be found, and to celebrate and encourage that work. Barnabas had this gift of noticing where the Lord was at work because as the Acts reading says he was filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to be open to the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit, to recognise the work of the Spirit. As Saint Paul says in one of his letter, spiritual things are discerned spiritually. This morning I hope all of us will be open to let the Holy Spirit work in and through us.

We probably meet people daily whom we find difficult, rude, or aggressive. Our automatic emotional reactions are often too quick to be suppressed and replaced by a loving smile through gritted teeth and would that be loving anyway?

Loving as Jesus loves is not having an emotional feeling which results in good deeds. Loving as Jesus loves is a way of being, a way of viewing life and people around us with God at its centre. He is the reference point to which we turn for guidance and strength. Faced with the problem of how to be loving at any given time, if we can learn to think first “how has Jesus shown love in a similar situation and to a similar person?” we will find an example to follow and a source of grace and strength to be that loving. That is the great promise of friendship which Jesus offers us – a friendship which guides us and encourages us to do what love commands.

Jesus commands his disciples to love one another as he has loved them. The love Jesus shows is costly; it takes risks and stands alongside people of whom society is afraid, disapproving or rejecting. Barnabas obeys this command of Jesus in his welcoming of Gentiles, in his support and encouragement of Paul and in his courageous return to help the persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. Chosen and appointed by God to do his work, we can find in Jesus guidance and encouragement to fulfil the command to love and to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.

Barnabas was responsible for helping to establish the early church and brought many people to faith in Christ. St. Barnabas is a living example of what Jesus calls us every Christian to do in the Gospel today. Jesus calls us to the dual vocation of being salt and light. St. Barnabas responded faithfully to this dual call and his example ought to encourage each of us. It teaches us something very important about the faith we're called to grow in during these difficult times which I hope all of us will remember.

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