Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they associated with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’.
At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch … Then Barnabas went to Tarsus.
Today the Church celebrates the life and witness of Barnabas the Apostle. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that Barnabas followed the teachings of Jesus and sacrificed his worldly wealth in order that the proceeds might be used to support the poor and needy. In today’s reading we also hear of his willingness to join the Twelve in responding joyously and unquestioningly to Christ’s call to follow, even to the point of giving his life as a martyr.
The story of Barnabas is an inspiring one, even if we do struggle with understanding and emulating his actions. Like Barnabas we are called to follow Christ. We are called to sacrifice the excess with which we surround ourselves and, in living the simpler life, to go wherever the wind of the Holy Spirit might lead us. But, despite knowing all this to be true, we do not journey in strange places in the Lord’s name. Instead we settle in comfortable enclaves, surrounded by the familiar, and rarely devoting ourselves to sharing the joy of the Gospel message.
Barnabas gave up his whole way of life in response to God’s call. As we hear in today’s reading Barnabas’ response to that call was complete in its willingness to be self-sacrificial. The leaders of the early Church perceived a need and they sent Barnabas who, as far as we can tell, accepted the commissions laid upon his shoulder and travelled far and wide, spreading the Good News as he went.
Not everyone is called to travel away from their homes in response to the call to discipleship. Sometimes we are called to journey amongst the familiar, sharing Christ’s love in a spirit of humble service. Sometimes we are called to use our familiarity with the community in which we live as a strength that gives the Christian message power and relevance.
Whether God is calling us to travel in the alien and the unknown, or whether he is calling us to travel only the streets that we know so well, we can be sure that God is calling us. The question is: ‘How are we going to respond to that call?’ Are we going to join Barnabas in taking whatever steps we are being asked to take in God’s name, or are we going to experience a prolonged bout of selective deafness … the deafness that is rooted in self-interest, greed and fear?
Let us pray that we may be worthy of the name ‘Christian’. Let us pray that we might be prepared to sacrifice the unnecessary and the excess that fills our lives. Let us pray that we might be ever ready to tread the path Christ has prepared for us. Let us pray that we might always be faithful, loyal and true disciples of our risen and ascended Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.