11 June 2008

Homily - St. Barnabas, Apostle

(This homily uses and expands upon my previous post for this day of remembering St. Barnabas.)

Son of Encouragement
Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3 & Mark 6:7-13

Today the Church remembers and thanks God for St. Barnabas, Apostle. His name means “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation,” and the Biblical witness gives ample testimony that he lived up to his name.

In our Gospel reading this evening, we hear how Jesus sent the Twelve out two by two to proclaim Him and His kingdom. While Barnabas was not in that group of sent ones, he most likely was in another group, the Seventy that Jesus later sent out (see Luke 10:1-20). To those seventy sent ones, our Lord gave the commission: “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Lk. 10:8-9). Barnabas learned from our Lord to encourage and console by proclaiming the Savior and His kingdom.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4. St. Luke, the author of Acts, says that the early Christians “were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). In our day, when diversity is trumpeted and even Christians seem to revel in how different they can be from one another, such a comment from St. Luke is quite the encouragement. Yes, there can indeed be something better. The unity of Christians in faith and life is indeed an encouragement and consolation.

We can certainly learn a lot from the early Church of Acts, and from Barnabas himself. As we are told of the early Christians selling their own property—perhaps the equivalent of “vacation homes” and extra property—we meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36: “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” What a great example of Christian charity! Barnabas saw the opportunity to use his wealth to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen and to extend the kingdom of God. What great encouragement our Lord gives when His people give generously so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and His kingdom promoted.

The next time we encounter this Apostle of encouragement, he comes to the rescue, humanly speaking, of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 gives us the conversion of St. Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians. With good reason many in the early Church were quite nervous about this man who had previously hunted down and killed their brothers and sisters in the true faith. However, “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27). What great encouragement Barnabas gave to St. Paul that someone would defend him and his name as a fellow Christian. What great consolation he gave to the other apostles that St. Paul was “the real deal” for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then we meet Barnabas again in our second reading for tonight. Barnabas and Paul have become companions and coworkers in proclaiming Christ Jesus. In fact, they travel and preach and teach together for several chapters in the book of Acts. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch, he saw how the grace of God had taken hold there. So, true to his name, he encouraged the Antiochian Christians “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23). Yes, we all need such encouragement. Everyone from lifelong Christians to those new to the faith need the constant encouragement in God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness in His Son Jesus Christ.

After Paul later joined Barnabas in Antioch, the two apostles taught the Christians there for a whole year. The encouragement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ bore great fruit in Antioch, and that’s where believers “were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).

The preaching continued, the missionary travels multiplied, and Barnabas kept encouraging. We even hear tonight how Barnabas joined Paul in gathering and delivering monies for famine relief for Christians in Judea. What a great testimony to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. His love for us sinners, shown on the cross and given in the Eucharist, leads His people to care for and help one another in every need. Of course, the greatest need is to hear, trust, and spread the message of Christ crucified for sinners. But Christians also encourage and console one another in other needs, such as disaster relief. As Barnabas shows us, it’s just what the people of Christ do.

What makes St. Barnabas worthy of our remembrance is that he draws our attention to the true and eternal “Son of Encouragement.” Yes, our Lord Jesus Christ is the true source of encouragement and consolation. In His death on the cross He has forgiven the sins that easily discourage. In His glorious resurrection He gives ample and eternal consolation that we have life with our holy, Triune God. Such encouragement in forgiveness and consolation in the life of Christ free us to follow the good example of St. Barnabas.

So on this day we thank God for St. Barnabas, for his selfless, generous charity, and for his defense of St. Paul's reputation as a bona fide apostle to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Let us pray that God will lead us also to be generous with our wealth so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and the kingdom of Christ may expand. Let us pray that God will give us the good courage to defend and support our pastors as they proclaim the mercies and life of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

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