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."
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."
The initiative for faith and discipleship must come from God, Jesus says. From him we receive eternal life, and through him we are caught up into the Holy Trinity. United with Jesus, we are joined to the Father and the Holy Spirit; and we inherit our Lord's promise: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand."
Jesus speaks these profound words about our eternal future in answer to a question put to him while he taught in the Temple. Somebody demanded to know: "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are really the Messiah, tell us so in plain words." Many people tended to reject his mystical language about union with God, demanding a plain answer, Yes or No, to the question, "Are you the Messiah?" What they meant was, "If yes, then we can begin the revolt against Rome."
God can brighten the mystery of our lives only if we allow the time to be perceptive and contemplative. These are qualities that characterized the apostle Barnabas, virtually canonized even in his lifetime as "a good man filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith." Elsewhere his name is interpreted as "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36). Originally named Joseph, he was called Barnabas because of his encouraging style and supportive personality.
The openness of Barnabas to God's gifts led him to Tarsus to search for Paul and bring him to join the church in Antioch. If it had not been for him, Paul might have been lost in the silent sands of some desert solitude. Taking a cue from today's gospel, we reckon that through Barnabas Jesus called by name this straying sheep "Paul" and led him into a path that transformed the missionary enterprise and the very nature of the church. We need to think how we too can be instrumental in helping others to perceive their dignity, their potential and the service they can give when called by God.
Many of us are concerned about break-ins to our home, anxious that someone might steal from us or do us harm. We take security precautions to prevent that from happening. In our gospel today, Jesus refers to breaking in and stealing; and goes on to declare that no one will ever steal his followers from him. It is as if to say that he has such a strong grip on his followers that no on will ever take them from him against his will. When you reflect on that, it is indeed very reassuring. Jesus will do all in his power to keep us united with himself and to prevent us from being taken away from him or falling away from him.
There is something we must do as well, for he also declares, "The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice." We need to pay attention to the Lord. We try to hear what he may be saying to us; we seek to follow where he is leading us. If we do that, the gospel suggests that we can be assured that the Lord will do the rest. Our Lord's contribution to the relationship between us and him is much more powerful than our own. Our ultimate salvation is much more the Lord's doing than ours. Therein lies our confidence and hope.