In our first reading today Paul and Barnabas are continuing their missionary journey which has taken in Cyprus, Paphos and Perga. In Antioch they tell the Jews that they had the privilege of hearing the Gospel first but that they would turn now to the pagans. There must have been many a listener, whether Jew, Christian or pagan who will have found the sight of Paul so forcibly preaching about Jesus something of a puzzle. Within days of his conversion in Damascus, he was ‘on mission’ in the synagogues, astonishing his listeners who knew he was the same person who had been causing havoc for Christians and was in Damascus only for the purpose of taking them as prisoners.
When Paul got to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples we are told they were all afraid of him, not believing him to be genuine. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the apostles and vouched for him. Originally Joseph, a levite from Cyprus, he had committed himself to the early Christians’ sharing of their possessions by selling a field he owned and putting the money raised at the apostles’ disposal. The apostles called him Barnabas –“son of encouragement”. After persecution, which included the martyrdom of Stephen, many Christians fled Jerusalem to places such as Cyprus and Antioch. The Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to work in Antioch and he sought out Paul, who was in Tarsus, to help him. They worked together there for a year teaching great numbers and it was at Antioch that believers were first called “Christians”. (Acts 11) During their mission in Antioch there was a famine in Jerusalem and money was sent by these gentile converts, via Paul and Barnabas, to support their brothers and sisters – a tradition of helping poorer Christians which continues to this day.
Grant to us Lord that Spirit which filled the hearts of Paul and Barnabas that we too may proclaim your Gospel faithfully by word and deed. Amen.