11 June, Tuesday – On Barnabas

11 June – Feast of St. Barnabas, apostle

St. Barnabas (martyred AD61) founded the Church in Antioch. He was a Levite Jewish convert, coming to the faith soon after Pentecost. Barnabas is mentioned frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, and is included among the prophets and doctors at Antioch. Like Paul, Barnabas believed in the Church’s mission to Gentiles, and worked with him in Cyprus and Asia, but split with him over a non-theological matter. At the time of his death he was carrying a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew that he had copied by hand.

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Acts 11:21-26,13:1-3 

A great number believed and were converted to the Lord.
The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
  Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’
In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

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Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

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Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand

St Barnabas, together with St Paul, evangelized to the earliest Christians and was instrumental in establishing Christianity among the many non-Jewish communities of that time. Barnabas was born to wealthy Jewish parents, and, as was customary amongst privileged young men of his time, was given an education, possibly with the same teacher who had taught St Paul. Scriptural accounts of Barnabas tell of a gentleman, filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on his work of evangelizing. His commitment ran so deep, he donated his inheritance to the early Christian Church. And despite his conservative Jewish roots, Barnabas was a staunch advocate of ‘inclusivity’ in the early Christian Church. He wanted Gentiles to feel like they belonged. This caused a bit of a scandal, that led to the Council of Jerusalem acknowledging that the Old Testament practices did not apply to Christians.

The Romans during the time of St Paul and St Barnabas were deep thinkers and cosmopolitan-minded. Their cities teemed with cultures from across the empire. They believed that commerce flourished only if peace prevailed. That peace hinged on strong leadership at the grassroots levels. Establishing the early Church threatened the uneasy power dynamic between the Romans and the Jews, so Paul and Barnabas found themselves persecuted quite often. In the end, Barnabas was martyred in Cyprus, where it is believed he was stoned to death.

By all accounts, St Barnabas’ life was filled with improbabilities. He was the son of a wealthy Jewish man, raised in privilege, shielded from the rough and tumble of daily life by his family’s money and status. Yet he gave this all up to walk with God. He could have had a comfortable, cookie cutter lifestyle, but he eschewed that for the struggle of being a first generation apostle. In the end, he was killed for it. Some would say this was a ‘waste’ of a life. But God uses the foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). What is crazy from a distance makes complete sense when looked at closely, through the filter of faith and the Holy Spirit.

In our dark days of shameless self-promotion, rampant corruption and ruthless partisan politics, let us ponder for a while on a character such as St Barnabas – unassuming, humble, patient, peace-loving, a leader of the people. There are the politicians who scheme and plot to get themselves elected. And then there are leaders like Barnabas. Wouldn’t it be something if out of the dregs of humanity now, someone like such rose to be a leader amongst us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for leaders who are guided by their moral compass, not their financial calculators and personal balance sheets.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who selflessly go into public service.

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