11 June 2010Acts 11:19-30
"He came and saw the grace of God." (v.23)
Today the Church celebrates the life of the apostle
The early 'followers of the Way' of Jesus suffered severe persecution. Some had been killed and others had fled to neighbouring countries. There were also disputes about whether the good news of the gospel should be kept within the Jewish community or whether it was a universal gospel for all people and should therefore be taken to the Gentiles (non Jews).
The missionaries who travelled to Antioch in southern Turkey preached to both Jews and Gentiles and many became believers. A vibrant Church was soon established, formed of both Jews and Gentiles. News of this inclusive Church soon reached the mother Church in Jerusalem and they decided to send one of their best representatives, Barnabas.
Barnabas was second only to Paul in the leadership he offered to the early Church. When he arrived in Antioch he was delighted to see and to experience the presence of the living God amongst the believers. Barnabas got to work, moving among the people, preaching, praying, offering words of encouragement, nurturing the believers in their faith. With Barnabas, described as being "a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" offering them such leadership, the Church there continued to grow. Barnabas was so encouraged that he sent for Paul to come and join him in Antioch. Paul arrived and together these two great apostles remained there a whole year.
So the largest church outside Jerusalem was firmly established and it was in Antioch that the followers of the Way of Jesus were first called Christians.
This must have been a very exciting place to be. Here in Antioch were people full of faith and devotion, who welcomed all comers both Jew and Gentile. It was a growing, inclusive church with a commitment to the poor and sending relief to those suffering from famine. And the church enjoyed the leadership of two great apostles of the early church - Paul and Barnabas. It was a model church: the living God made known through God's Church.
Reflect on the contribution that Barnabas made to the life of the early Church.
What is there still for us to learn today from the witness of Barnabas?