Today the church honors and remembers St. Barnabas, Apostle, who traveled with St. Paul to proclaim the gospel. Last week we provided you a brief summary of his life and a recipe to make in his honor.
St. Barnabas and St. Paul are depicted together in the image below, which makes evident the extraordinary nature of their work.
The story behind the image is in Acts, chapter 14:
In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Now that the temples of the Greek gods are in ruins and Christianity is a major religion, it is easy to forget that St. Paul and St. Barnabas proclaimed Christ to a people who had never heard of him. Look at the extraordinary edifice before which they preach! It belonged to an entire civilization honoring different gods. When the inhabitants of Lystra saw God heal through Paul and Barnabas, they thought they were those gods, and prepared to worship them. Paul and Barnabas had some work to do, convincing the crowd that they were only human themselves.
Our task today is different from the one Paul and Barnabas faced, but it is just as extraordinary. Our edifices are constructed to honor God in Christ. We worship – and bring our children to worship – the Triune God. Institutions have been built up over generations to communicate the grace and glory of God.
But all those institutions exist for only one reason: to bring us into authentic relationship, through Christ, with our Creator. It is not the majesty of our buildings which is most important, but the dedication of our hearts. Our edifices are meant to be outward and visible manifestations of an inward, invisible faith: a faith which we transmit, generation to generation, until Christ returns.
St. Barnabas – whose name means “son of encouragement” – encourages us in authentic worship of a real God. With St. Paul he still exhorts us to bear the good news. That good news is that no matter what happens to our institutions, our Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. Buildings may crumble and empires collapse, but God is eternal. That is good news, both two thousand years ago and now.
A Prayer for Today
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
How do you honor St. Barnabas?