Homily on the festival of St. Barnabas, Apostle
In our first reading, the Lord is the one and only genuine article – and He will not give His glory to another or His praise to carved images. “The Lord your God is a jealous God.” Unlike the idols – that are doers of nothing – the Lord, the Creator, is about to do a new thing. And when He does His new thing, Isaiah foretells, the Lord’s new song, praising His new deed, will spread over the whole earth. The coastlands will hear of it and join in singing; the inhabitants of Sela will sing for joy and shout from the top of the mountains, giving glory to the Lord and declaring His praise all along the coasts.
After the Lord has done His new thing – Has taken on human flesh and blood from the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in it lived a perfect life of love, and in it offered up His own body and blood on the Cross in order to give humanity back to the Father, and after He has been raised from the dead and poured out His Spirit upon His disciples, He sends them out with the good news.
He sends them out to sing a new song that will start rejoicing the hearts of those who hear and believe it. It sounds entirely too good to be true, but true it is. God did for us in our flesh what we could never do for ourselves, and He gives it to us as gift of His love without any price attached. It’s freely ours. Forgiveness, salvation, eternal life. Believe it, for it's true!
So as the persecution arises and spreads the word and the Lord’s new song, it reaches Antioch and there even embraces some of the gentiles, who hear and believe, and join the Jews in being called Christians. The Jerusalem Church sends down to Barnabas to make sure that they’re singing in the right key – that the Lord’s song that they sing down on the coast is the same song they sing up in Jersualem – a song of praise to the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world. Barnabas rejoices in their new song and sings right along with them – and he grabs Saul, soon to be known as Paul, to help them in singing their new grace notes.
But the song is too big to bottle up in Antioch, and so the Spirit moves the Church there to send Paul and Barnabas to the first great missionary journey, to take the song of Jesus and His forgiving love and His defeat of death and His unquenchable joy out to the coastlands - just as Isaiah foretold. So off they go with the laying on of hands: put into the office of missionary which might also be called recruiters for the Lord’s song.
And though Paul nor Barnabas were among the original twelve, we note that the Lord even then sent them out two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits and reminding them to not worry about clothes and food and such, for the people would feed them as they ministered and served out the Word, and if folks wouldn’t listen, they weren’t to argue but simply to shake the dust off and move on. Even from the very beginning, joining in the Lord’s new song was invitation and gift, never coercion. So they went out and proclaimed that people everywhere should repent, turn away from their sin and turn toward the Lord who was among them, and they drove out demons – for the demons can’t abide where the Lord’s song is being sung – and they anointed many with oil and healed them.
Barnabas and Saul went out like that – just like the first 12 – and the same Lord, living and risen from the dead, worked with them and confirmed every word they preached with the signs they did – remember how they came to Lystra and healed a man crippled from birth? The priest of Zeus was ready to offer sacrifice to them then and there, thinking the gods had come down as men, but Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes and show their bodies: we are not gods; we are men like you! We bring you good news – that you should turn from these worthless idols to the living God who made all things. It was HIS hand that was at work in the Apostles. From town to town the song moved on and left behind it new choristers.
Barnabas continued his singing of the Lord’s song to the end of his life. According to Church tradition, he labored long in Cyprus and there was stoned to death. But His witness to Christ lives on. We remember especially his generosity in parting with material things in order to further the spread of the gospel, his gentle soul and kindness in dealing with John Mark; His always being the first to reach out and welcome new singers of the Lord’s song, no matter how unlikely they were – like Saul. And now he goes on singing the song of the Lamb before the throne of Him for whom he endured hardships and travelled and witnessed and died. In Him, in the Lord Jesus, Barnabas lives forevermore, and the song still goes on and draws ever more to sing with joy of the victory that is ours in the new thing that the real God, the only living God, has done in raising Jesus Christ from the dead - to whom be glory be with His unoriginate Father and all-holy Spirit, now and to the ages of ages! Amen.