Saturday, June 11, 2011

St. Barnabas: The Unsung Apostle

The Church needs more Barnabases. I'm not suggesting everyone go out and sell their field (or home or vacation home or whatever) although maybe we could all find our own 'field' to sell and lay the money at the feet of Christ's Church (Acts 4:32-37). No, what I mean is that the Church needs more unsung heroes, more masks of God revealing the hidden ways of God in their often behind the scenes (and more often than not, ordinary) vocations. What do you know about Barnabas? Have you heard Sunday School songs sung about him? Churches named after him? Children named for him? Well, that's exactly my point. Heard and not seen is the way of God's saints. Barnabas was never the center of attention - Christ was (and the same is true for those saints who have more narrative play time in the New Testament: the spotlight is always on Jesus). And that is what we need more of in the Church, more Barnabases.

From Jerusalem to Iconium and from Lystra to Antioch, Barnabas followed Paul, proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins - that was his vocation. Later there was an argument and Barnabas took Mark, but even there the Gospel was served. Where is your Lystra, your Jerusalem, your Iconium? Is it in the classroom, at home, on the playground, in the squad car, in the jump seat between the cock-pit and the passengers, in the operating room, in the elected seat of congress? Wherever, God has called you, placed you - that is your vocation and we have dozens of them, many of which are unsung. St. Barnabas day is a day for the unsung heroes of the Church, to all you blue collar, white collar and clerical collar masks of God. It may not be a field, but chances are you lay something - be it a widow's mite or a hard day's work - at the feet of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church knowing that you have loved God and served the neighbor, even if it is hidden. For your love and service come flow from that which is not hidden:  the love and service of the only begotten Son - from Jerusalem to Iconium, from Huntington Beach to the four corners of the earth, Christ Crucified is proclaimed, given, received, present with His bride the Church.

It is no doubt difficult work. Barnabas and Paul knew a little of this, as do you. It is the making of a saint from a sinner.  Something C.S. Lewis reminds us about in The Problem of Pain: "Why do men need such alteration? The Christian answer - that we have used our free will to become very bad - is so well known [among us that is] that it hardly needs to be stated. But to bring this doctrine into real life in the minds of modern men, and even modern Christians, is very hard. When the Apostles preached, they could assume even in their Pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving Divine anger. The Pagan mysteries existed to allay this consciousness, and the Epicurean philosophy claimed to deliver men from the fear of eternal punishment. It was against this background that the Gospel appeared as Good News. It brought news of possible healing to men who knew that they were mortally ill."

The Epicurean and the philosopher (no less the pagan) are still with us, and though Lewis says, this has all changed, that we now must begin with the diagnosis - very bad news in itself - the repentance and forgiveness of sins is, and will continue to be, preached to the ends of the earth by all the modern day Barnabases, to the eternal joy of its hearers - and of course the angelic rejoicing and churchly fellowship- just as it was in the early days of the Church. The Lord will continue to raise up faithful, unsung heroes in every age to point to the Light of the Gentiles that He - by His death and resurrection - would bring salvation to all. A blessed St. Barnabas Day!

For Barnabas we praise You,
Who kept Your law of love
And, leaving earthly treasures,
Sought riches from above.
O Christ, our Lord and Savior,
Let gifts of grace descend,
That Your true consolation
May through the world extend.
- LSB 518:17

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