[Homily. ADDU Live-streamed Mass. June 11, 2020]
We celebrate today the Memorial of St. Barnabas. While Barnabas was not among “the Twelve,” the twelve who among the disciples of Jesus formed the inner circle closest to Jesus, he was an apostle. Apostle means, “one who is sent.” The liturgy today, working from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, applies the words with which Jesus “sent out” or “missioned” his Twelve to Barnabas. “As you go forth, proclaim the message: the kingdom of heaven has come near…” (Mt. 10:7).
Barnabas does not appear in the four Gospels, but he appears prominently in the Acts of the Apostles. He is introduced as a Levite from Cyprus so convinced of the truth proclaimed about the resurrected Jesus that he sells his land and lays the proceeds of the sale at the feet of the disciples.
That in itself is something remarkable, akin to the widow who gave up her everything in her ultimate reliance on God. We may recall that in the early Church property was held in common and to each was given according to the need of each. The generous gesture of Barnabas in faith must have distinguished him as a follower of Jesus. The next we hear of Barnabas, he is introducing Saul to the apostles.
Saul had been feared as a zealous persecutor of those who followed the New Way. After his dramatic conversion, when he had already begun to preach Jesus as the resurrected Lord, many could not believe it. They continued to fear Saul. When he came to Jerusalem to meet the apostles, the apostles feared to meet him, and the community of disciples must have wanted to shield the apostolic leadership from Saul. But it was Barnabas who brought him to the apostles. It was because of the trust that the apostles had in Barnabas that they were able to hear from Saul himself how he had been a zealous persecutor of the disciples of Jesus, but how he had been converted, knocked off his horse in an encounter with the Resurrected Lord that changed his life forever, led to his baptism, and his need to preach the Gospel of Jesus.
The community of disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem was at that time the center of the early Church. When it became clear that there were expatriate Jews and non-Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah in far away Antioch, the thriving capital then of the Roman Province of Syria, in modern-day Antokya in Turkey, and that these needed proper instruction and guidance in their faith, the community in Jerusalem sent Barnabas (cf. Acts: 11: 22). So missioned, Barnabas was an apostle. His experience in Antioch was happy and apostolically fruitful, apparently also because of his personality as a believer in Jesus: “When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” (cf. Acts: 11: 23). “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). The challenge for Barnabas to care for all of these new believers motivated him to seek help.
He sought that help in an old acquaintance, the person he had introduced to the apostles. “Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Paul. And when he found him he brought him to Antioch There they labored together for a whole year to nourish the believers in Antioch. And because these believed that Jesus was the Messiah or the Christ, for the first time in Antioch, the believers in Jesus were called Christians.” (cf. Acts, 11: 26). This year together in Antioch was the beginning of a great apostolic partnership, first with Barnabas leading Saul, and later Saul, who be called Paul, leading Barnabas. As the disciples and teachers of the Antioch community gathered and ministered to the Lord, the Acts reports, “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2). Then having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them [as is still done today at an episcopal ordination], they were sent out by the Holy Spirit to the distant corners of the known world. In this manner were both Barnabas and his companion Saul apostles, those sent out by the Spirit to preach the good news. Both died as martyrs for the faith.
Today, we must consider how we are being “sent out by the Spirit”, the Spirit which sends out from the fullness of the Father and the Son who make their home within us. From this home within we are sent out to make our world, the world of our family, the world of our work, the world of our university, the world of our city and nation, into the home of the Spirit. Sent in this manner, we must heed the words of St. Matthew from the chapter of our Gospel reading today: “I am sending you out like sheep among the wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach in the rooftops. Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt. 11: 36-27). Is not the Spirit of Jesus and of the Father saying: I am sending you out today to make peace among your loved ones, to give love to the relative in need, to contribute to ending the pandemic, to labor to make our economy more beneficial to all. I am sending you out today to say, “Black lives matter!” Human life matters. Social justice matters. The civil rights of persons peacefully demonstrating for justice matter. The dangerous ambiguity of “terrorism” matters. The Spirit’s gift of piety is not an external piousness that is showy and soft as of the hypocrites (cf. Mt. 23), but such an inner intimacy with God that one becomes resolute in discerning and doing God’s will. Jesus who was crucified says, “The student is not above the Teacher nor the servant above the Master” (Mt. 10:24). Persecution will come. “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Mt. 10:22). But “he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 10:38-39). In this light, in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).