Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saint Barnabas the Apostle

Today is the Feast Day of St. Barnabas, of whom we read about in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. Here is today's "Saint a Day" e-mail from

Barnabas, a Jew of Cyprus, comes as close as anyone outside the Twelve to being a full-fledged apostle. He was closely associated with St. Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and served as a kind of mediator between the former persecutor and the still suspicious Jewish Christians.

When a Christian community developed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to incorporate them into the fold. He and Paul instructed in Antioch for a year, after which they took relief contributions to Jerusalem.

Later, Paul and Barnabas, now clearly seen as charismatic leaders, were sent by Antioch officials to preach to the Gentiles. Enormous success crowned their efforts. After a miracle at Lystra, the people wanted to offer sacrifice to them as gods—Barnabas being Zeus, and Paul, Hermes—but the two said, “We are of the same nature as you, human beings. We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God” (see Acts 14:8-18).

But all was not peaceful. They were expelled from one town, they had to go to Jerusalem to clear up the ever-recurring controversy about circumcision and even the best of friends can have differences. When Paul wanted to revisit the places they had evangelized, Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark, his cousin, author of the Gospel, but Paul insisted that, since Mark had deserted them once, he was not fit to take along now. The disagreement that followed was so sharp that Barnabas and Paul separated, Barnabas taking Mark to Cyprus, Paul taking Silas to Syria. Later, they were reconciled—Paul, Barnabas and Mark.

When Paul stood up to Peter for not eating with Gentiles for fear of his Jewish friends, we learn that “even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (see Galatians 2:1-13).
The Collect[ive Prayer] for the celebration of Saint Barnabas the Apostle from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:
O Lord God Almighty, who didst endue thy holy Apostle Barnabas with singular gifts of the Hooly Ghost; Leave us not, we beseech thee, destitute of thy manifold gifts, nor yet of grace to use them alway[s] to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The readings for this day are from the 11th chapter Acts of the Apostles from the 22nd verse to the end of the chapter; here's a portion of the reading:
... and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people were added unto the Lord....

The Gospel for this day is written in the 15th chapter of the Gospel According to Saint John, the 12th to the 16th verses:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you....

Barnabas is an excellent man of God to emulate -- and emulating men and women who love and serve God well is something Paul instructs us to do:
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:17, ESV)

For the reason cited above in Philippians 3:17, the examples of the saints should be of the utmost importance to us. We are to "keep our eyes" on those men and women who lived this difficult Christian life for God's glory, and for that reason, the stories of the saints, both Scriptural saints that the Anglican church recognizes as well as the saints of the past 2000 years, are of great value to us as we navigate this "pilgrim pathway." The examples of the saints encourage us, teach us, even convict us, and by knowing the stories of lives lived for God, we have before us godly examples to follow. Yes, sometimes the saint stories I read each day rather run together in my memory, but each morning as I read about another Christian who lived (and sometimes died) for Christ, I have before me one more example of a fellow pilgrim who gave all for Christ. And I can't help feeling a little more encouraged in my own faith journey each morning as I thank God for their lives. The saints allowed God to work through their strengths and weaknesses in many different ways, and knowing their stories affirms more fully that He has been, is, and will be working through me as well as I continue loving and serving Him and His people.

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