Thirty First Sunday -- Luke 18: 35 - 43
"Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. Those up ahead sternly ordered him to be quiet" Luke 18: 38, 39. And our Lord still healed him because of his genuine faith response. But there have been times in God's revelation to us when help was needed, when an intercessor was vital. It is a great thing to do from time to time, to practice some introspection by looking at individuals in Scripture to see how their example can influence us. We can focus on an important man. We can pray our church is filled with people like this man. If we could become like this man, it would revolutionize our churches, transform our homes and change our faith communities.
One simple verse introduces us to this man: "Joseph, who was named by the apostles, Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement" Acts of the Apostles 4: 36. Son of Encouragement. Barnabas was a nickname and it reflected the kind of person he was.
In the time of Christ, a nickname was given to represent the kind of person they were. It was a characterization of who they were. Here you have a man by the common name of Joseph whose nickname is Barnabas, "Son of encouragement." He is the kind of man who encouraged other people every where he went. He brought out the best in other people. He lifted their spirits. He quieted their hearts, he brought joy and comfort to them. He was an individual who constantly encouraged other people.
He was the kind of person who was confident enough in himself that he sought out the one who was faltering, the one who perhaps failed, the one who had stumbled. Barnabas helped them back on their feet and helped them realize that failure is not final, that we do not have to live life on the basis of our mistakes. He demonstrated that the gospel message is the gospel of starting all over again, of making a new beginning after a bad start. The gospel is the gospel of going on from where we are. The gospel is the gospel of transforming the mistakes and tragedies of our past into the glories of God's grace in our lives.
That is the kind of person Barnabas was. The Book of Acts of the Apostles in chapter 9 gives an account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. He was a man who hated Christians and viewed it as his call from God to wipe out the Christian movement. He went to the Jewish officials in Jerusalem and asked for authority to go to Damascus, find followers of Christ in the Jewish synagogue there and bring them back to punish them, to condemn them, to put them in prison or to put them to death. So Saul was given the authority.
On the way to Damascus, in the hot Syrian sun, there appeared the blinding presence of the Son of God. Saul was blinded, fell to the earth from his horse and heard a distinct voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Acts of the Apostles 9: 4. Saul cried out, "Who are you, Lord?" and was introduced to Jesus Christ. We remember this story of the magnificent, transforming grace of Almighty God that saved Saul of Tarsus. What we may not remember is that after Saul goes back into town, his sight is restored, and he returns to Jerusalem.
What does this new Christian want to do? What are his concerns and interests? He wants to be with other believers. He wants to tell everyone that he has been saved by Christ in a dramatic encounter. He immediately wants to begin preaching and teaching. He wants to tell his unique story and share his faith, "...and soon began to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God" Acts of the Apostles 9: 20. He wanted to join the Christian fellowship, to gather with other believers and share his faith.
But people in Jerusalem knew what kind of man he had been and they were more than afraid of him. He was one of their chief antagonists. He had been on his way to capture Christians in Damascus. He had the authority to condemn them and return with them as prisoners. They thought the entire series of events was nothing more than a ruse, so he could befriend believers, learn their identity, condemn them and imprison them. They mistrusted him too much, feared his authority and did not at all want this man around d them.
St. Paul was not accepted by the early Church immediately after his conversion. Believers had no way of knowing his sincerity and seriousness. He was seen for what he was: an enemy of the Lord and of believers in Christ. How would he ever be effective and trusted to preach the Good News? How could he be effective in fulfilling his vocation as expected by Christ? What chances would he have for expressing the convictions faith in Christ imposed? How was he going to seriously be an apostle like the others?
It was Barnabas who came and put his arm around Saul and brought him before believers and said, "Brothers, this man met Jesus and gave his heart to Christ. He has been preaching and telling people about the Lord. And we need to receive him as a brother" Acts of the Apostles 9: 27. It was Barnabas who first physically brought Saul of Tarsus into the Church so he could fulfill his destiny of becoming the greatest missionary leader and preacher. The people generally would have kept St. Paul from accomplishing what God expected of him, but it was Barnabas who made possible the unique and astounding vocation of St. Paul.
Every apostle needed, every priest could use a Barnabas in his vocation that the work of Christ is properly fulfilled and accomplished. Lend yourself to the work of salvation of souls. You may be surprised as you discover your vocation is to be Barnabas in our parish.
In the eleventh chapter of Acts of the Apostles, we see our heavenly Father beginning to expand the movement of Christ. The initial movement was a Jewish response to the Lord and was erroneously thought to be restricted to Jews. But with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, souls of non-Jews were touched as well Strange things began to be heard from Antioch where the Holy Spirit was very active among the Gentiles. The apostles were puzzled and sent Barnabas to check things out. He went there and witnessed the Holy Spirit alive among non-Jews. Scripture records that upon witnessing the work of God there, "...he was glad..." Acts of the Apostles 11: 23. He was glad he was a witness to the works of God among us. He was encouraged by seeing believers enter the faith of Jesus Christ. It was Barnabas who first encouraged the inclusion of non-Jews in the Body of Christ.
The most dramatic movement in the life of Barnabas came in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts of the Apostles. We recall Paul and Barnabas going on a missionary journey together where they established local churches. He gave himself unconditionally to helping Paul in his teaching ministry and in his travels to share the rich treasure of faith in Christ. He was always eager to put his arm around those who had some sort of problem believing and remaining faithful.
We need individuals like Barnabas. We desperately need to be individuals like Barnabas so we can help, and assist in the growth of the Body of Christ. We need encouragers who will reach out to those who have stumbled and fallen, those who are discouraged and oppressed and lift their hearts and draw them back to the Saviour. We need redemptive, restoring individuals who will make it their task to be sons of encouragement, to be encouragers.
The New Testament uses the word, exhort. The word literally means "to encourage." We are continually asked to exhort, to encourage one another in pursuing the salvation of our soul. St. Paul in his message to the Hebrews says, "But encourage each other daily, while it is still called `today' so that none of you is hardened by sin's deception" Hebrews 3: 13. If we are not encouragers, then satan has an entrance into our lives. If we are not encouraging others, if we are not exhorting them, if we do not provide them with an example they can duplicate in their own experience, then we may be burdened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Without Barnabas, how would St. Paul have ended up? Without us, how would other believers advance in holiness and seriousness? Think seriously and then proceed to be a witness and example for others. Share with them your own devotion land conviction! Finally, St. Paul tells us, "We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another, and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near" Hebrews 10: 25.