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Saint Barnabas

Son of Encouragement

Today we celebrate Saint Barnabas, the traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. He was more than a traveling companion. Barnabas was largely responsible for encouraging Paul to undertake an active ministry.

We know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. We know that Jesus Himself called Paul into ministry. Nonetheless, Paul was not easily accepted as an apostle of Jesus by the leadership in Jerusalem. He had been persecuting the Church. Barnabas, however, looked at Paul through the eyes of Christ. He rescued Paul and presented him to the apostles, testifying that Paul was indeed a true believer. This was typical of Barnabas. His name meant “son of encouragement.”

Barnabas was chosen along with Paul for a special mission:

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.   (Acts 13:1-3)

This was the beginning of the great mission to the Gentiles. Barnabas and Paul were willing to travel without special requirements or treatment. They endured great hardships for the Gospel. They were willing to follow the instructions which Jesus gave His disciples concerning the conduct of ministry:

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.   (Matthew 10:7-10)

What can we learn from Barnabas about our own ministry? He did not care what others thought about Paul. He listened only to what God was telling him. He wanted the praises and approval of God more than that of human beings.

A positive attitude is helpful. Prayer and fasting is preparation. The support of a community is vital and of absolute necessity. A willingness to be set apart by the Holy Spirit for ministry directed by God and not by our own desires. Perhaps this last one is most difficult. The Holy Spirit may lead us into difficult places where we must rely solely on God.

We may not be asked by God to leave home and job. We may, however, be asked to give up some of our cherished beliefs about ministry. We may be asked to leave our comfort zones. We may be required to work with others who are not on the approved list. We might just be called to offer encouragement and support to others in their ministry. God is still calling his Barnabas’s.

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

baby_in_the_womb_by_azrael1984The Calling of God

During the Season of the Epiphany we reflect upon those times in which God has revealed himself to humankind, and to each one of us personally. He has called each of us unto himself. Do we remember those times?

Today we celebrate the calling of Samuel and that of Nathanael, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Samuel was only a small boy when he heard God’s call. He did not understand, at first, that it was God who was talking to him. We read from 1 Samuel:

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.   (1 Samuel 3:2-9)

A small boy become a great prophet. God used him to restore the priesthood of Israel. We remember that the sons of Eli had desecrated the temple to the point that the very presence and power of God was greatly diminished.

Nathanael was called by Jesus to be one of his twelve disciples. Nathanael had no deceit, as Jesus declared, yet Nathanael was skeptical about the Messiah coming out of Nazareth. His skepticism quickly turned to faith, however. From John’s Gospel we read:

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”   (John 1:43-51)

God takes the ordinary and turns them into extraordinary men and women of God. Is that true for us? Surely he had called each one of us. We have been given specific ministries in his kingdom that only we can accomplish, we his help and direction.

Have we missed our call? Have we heard from God. Our very souls have heard his call, even before we were born. From Psalm 139 we read:

For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.   (Psalm 139:12-15)

How many great men and women of God have been lost through abortion? His plans for us began in our mother’s womb.

God has surely called each one of us. And he continually extends that call throughout our lives. But we must listen attentively to his voice. Samuel and Nathanael had to make some adjustments in their understanding of God’s call. They had to learn to grow closer to God each day.

We can do the same, if we are open to him. If we have our hearts set on him. Samuel and Nathanael move from skepticism to faith. How are we doing? It is not to late to make adjustments in our lives in order to more closely follow our Lord. Samuel and Nathanael made adjustments because they were able to devote themselves to God from their hearts.

This year is an opportunity for us to grow in our understanding of God. Will we follow our Lord more closely and listen to his instructions. God has truly called us to be his faithful servants. He needs us to help advance his kingdom on this earth, and in the age to come. What a great calling each one of us has. Are we ready for our Epiphany with the Lord?

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