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.
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."
Barnabas was among the most enthusiastic and life-enhancing members of the early Church. Luke describes him in glowing terms as "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." A trusted confidant of the apostles, he shared much of his property with the poor, and his was the voice that had the former persecutor, Saul/Paul, accepted as genuine within the Christian community in Jerusalem. As he is portrayed in Acts, he had the sort of unselfish, reliable, encouraging personality that made him an ideal ambassador for the Gospel. This made him the perfect helper to be sent to support the growing church in Antioch.
Meanwhile, Saul (later Paul) had acted imprudently by being too forthright in preaching the faith in the synagogues to which he once had belonged. This resulted in the apostles sending him back to his native Tarsus, into virtual exile, to cool his heels until he learned to measure his speech to the volatile circumstances in Jerusalem. But Barnabas did not want Paul's great gifts to be wasted, knowing how precious they would be within the Antioch Christian community. So, as Luke relates with relish, he brought Saul to Antioch where, between them, the instructed many in the faith, building up an integration of Jewish and Gentile converts into what we may properly regard as the first truly "catholic" church. It was from this dynamic church community that Barnabas and Paul went out on the first explicitly 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 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. Today's feast can serve to recall all of us to those qualities in Barnabas which gave such a boost to the growth of the Church in his time. With pastors like him, our Church could have a great revival.
He had a reputation in the early church for giving encouragement to others. Indeed Barnabas is a kind of nickname which means "son of encouragement." We see him engaged in that ministry of encouragement in today's 1stReading: 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 recognized 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 recognize 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 a work because as that 1st Reading says he was filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to be open to the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit, to recognize the work of the Spirit. As Saint Paul says in one of his letter, spiritual things are discerned spiritually. [MH]