Readings: Acts 11:19-26; Psalm 87; John 10:22-30
The apostles are sent by Jesus just as Jesus was sent by the Father. Similarly they are to be shepherds as Jesus was, and is, the Good Shepherd. One of the outstanding pastors of the early church, counted also as an apostle, is Barnabas.
Barnabas first appears in Acts 4 where we hear a bit about his background: he is a Levite, from Cyprus, called Joseph but nicknamed Barnabas by the apostles, a name meaning 'son of encouragement'. More than once he acts as mediator between Saul become Paul and the Christian community which is understandably suspicious of its ferocious one-time persecutor. At the very beginning he has to re-assure the community in Damascus about the legitimacy of Paul's conversion. In today's reading we see him working with Paul again, this time encouraging him back from exile in Tarsus to join the community at Antioch.
He seems like a pastor who has the smell of his sheep about him, throwing his lot in with Paul in his first great missionary journey in which together they preach and found churches across Asia Minor. Together they witness to the call of the Gentiles and together they are deputed to relay the decisions of the churches one to the other.
But they fall out. It happens so often between pastors and some of their people, between pastor and pastor, between sections of the parish and other sections of the parish. On the one hand it is re-assuring that even those who were first called Christians, when faced with the difficulties to which all flesh is heir, were as impotent as we sometimes are.
Why is it that so much energy goes trying to help people understand each other? Why is it that so much energy goes massaging wounded egos and cajoling people to keep going, or to make a change, or to work together again? Why is it that people cannot work together in the Lord's house even while professing the same faith and aspiring to the same charity?
Most of us will feel that Barnabas was in the right in his argument with Paul about taking John Mark with them again. Paul seems determined and relentless, too demanding for most people, but perhaps it was necessary for him to fulfil the vocation he had received. Barnabas on the other hand seems a more peaceful person, calm and encouraging, reconciling and helping.
Let us thank God for good pastors like Barnabas who console and encourage even while thanking God also for prophetic gadflies like Paul who provoke and stimulate. In the end such contrasting gifts are complementary within the one body of the Lord.