Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June 11 - Barnabas, Martyr, Friend of the Gentiles, Evangelist

Barnabas wasn't always called Barnabas. In fact, his parents had named him Joseph. He was a Jew by birth and, further, was a member of the tribe of Levi. This made him a member of the priestly line.Because of his great pedigree, he had been a student of the rabbi Gamaliel alongside a man then known as Saul of Tarsus. But, then, Barnabas had met Jesus and after listening to some of the things he had to say, he began to follow him and learn his ways. He was not one of "the twelve" but he was a disciple and student of Jesus as he performed wonders and spoke of a Kingdom not of this world. He heard the parables, he saw the thankful masses of people, he tasted the loaves and fishes broken for him and he partook of the life of discipleship that so many others had taken upon themselves with Jesus' loving insistence. Along with the early Church (before they were known as "Christians"), he was a good and observant Jew who insisted upon the rightness of intentions over the rightness of particulars. He learned and taught a path of obedience to God that demanded submission of the heart, soul, mind, and strength to God but he went one step further and claimed Jesus as the incarnation of God who loved the world so much that God intervened for the greatest of all healing--the healing of a sin sick and broken people.

When his old friend Saul of Tarsus took that fateful trip to Damascus to persecutethe followers of Jesus (those like Barnabas)there, he found conversion and his named was changed later to Paul. There had been a change of his person and so it was only fitting that his name be changed, as well--he wasn't Saul anymore. Joseph became Barnabas when he took the land and things he owned and sold them. He gave the money he gained by the sale to the fledgling Church and it was used to care for the poor and sick. Having given up everything, he gave up his name, as well, and was given the name Barnabas. When Paul came to visit the surviving disciples of Jesus it was Barnabas who vouched for him and introduced him to the others. The two became connected and renewed the friendship they had formed under Gamaliel. The odd calling placed upon these two men was to advocate for the expansive power of God's Kingdom. Paul and Barnabas--both Jewish themselves--insisted that one need not be a Jew to be a follower of Jesus. This was a topic of considerable debate for many, many years in the Church but Paul and Barnabas believed that God was bigger than one group of people. So, under their guidance and teaching, congregations were started in many other places and the Church became a more complicated and beautiful Body.

Like so many of the early Christians, though, his calling and the faithful living of his life got him into trouble. Once, while he was having a spirited discussion on the nature of God and the divinity of Jesus among some of his Jewish contemporaries, his opponents decided they could stand it no longer.They dragged him from the synagogue while he preached to them on the grandness of God's mercy and the power of God to transform the lives of any through Jesus. They tortured him as punishment for speaking of grace and beat him as compensation for his forgiveness. Finally, they secured him to the ground and stoned him to death. The man who had striven to break open God's mercy upon more and more people with every passing day met his end at the hands of those who wanted nothing more than never to hear him speak again. They got their wish but the words didn't stop.Instead, they were picked up by the countless people--Jew and Gentile--who had been led into the Kingdom of God by the hand of Barnabas. His body was taken up by his friend John Mark and buried after all of his murderers had left the site of that dark hour.

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