Let’s have a little test… if I introduced somebody to you as Richard Junior… could you tell me what Richard’s DAD’s name is? Richard. And, if I introduced Jeffrey Junior… his dad’s name is: … Now if I introduce somebody in the Bible named Bartimeus – what is his dad’s name? Timeus – in the Hebrew culture, it was also normal to call a son by his father’s name, but you add the prefix BAR to it. So Bar-Timeus is kinda like saying Timeus Junior.
Well, in today’s First reading, we meet Barnabas. We might call him Barny for short – but then we could miss the meaning of his name. Following the rule I just told you, do you know what Barnabas' Dad's name is? No... :) not in this case, I tricked you. Barnabas was just a nickname meaning “son of encouragement”. It was the nickname that the apostles called him because of all the things he did to build up other people. As with most things in the Bible, that is not a useless piece of trivia.
For example, pay attention to what Barnabas did today. He took a huge risk by bringing Paul to meet the Apostles. Let’s put it into context – let’s say somebody showed up at church today and his first name is Osama. How would we react? I would think most of us would be more than a little bit apprehensive of staying in the same place as him. We know what he’s done – we’ve heard all about it – we’ve seen the pictures and watched the TV as the world trade center was falling. We’re not only scared of him – we are terrified...that’s why they call him a terrorist. There’s only one reason he would be coming to our church – to plan his next attack – and we are likely his target.
That may sound like an exaggeration – but that is exactly what happened in the first reading. Paul was the worst of the worst when it came to persecuting the church. He had been hunting down and killing Christians… and the Apostles knew it… they’d heard all about it… they might have even watched their brothers and sisters being stoned to death. They were not only scared of him – they were terrified of him. There’s only one reason he would be coming to THEIR church – to plan his next attack – and they were his likely target.
This is where Barnabas stepped in. Barnabas had seen with his own eyes what Paul had done and how he had truly changed – so Barnabas stuck his neck out and convinced the Apostles to give Paul a chance. And you know the rest of the story – Paul became one of them – he became one of US. And we were invigorated by the fire with which he preached the Gospel. There was something in the way he talked about Jesus that we could just tell – it was personal – it was meaningful. Because we let Paul into our church, WE were changed.
So – maybe Osama isn’t coming to our church – but we often have “outsiders” at our parish. During the summer especially, people live up at the lake – some people stay for the summer – others just for a weekend. Are they welcome here? Friends and family come to visit – they join us for worship on Sunday – Folks from surrounding parishes often join us because the Mass schedule just happens to fit into their schedule for the weekend. Are they welcomed here?
I immediately think of the greeters at the door... They are here to make everybody feel welcomed. They are the Barnabas as our front door. Like Paul, our visitors have been sent here by the Holy Spirit for a purpose... They are here to change us. Through our welcoming and encouraging of THEM, we grow. We come here to be fed… with the Jesus’ words and with His Body and Blood,… but it's more than that. We come together as a community because we ARE the body of Christ – and we BECOME the Body of Christ. The purpose of coming together is not just to foster MY relationship with Jesus – but to encourage everyone else… to build up the body! To foster each other’s relationship with Jesus. Like Barnabas – we are all son’s of encouragement for one another.
I know, I know – most of us just want to be left alone. Just let me go to my pew and don’t bother me. But when we do that, we’re not just cheating ourselves – we’re cheating those around us – and therefore, we are cheating Jesus. He wants – no – he NEEDS us to reach out to others. To encourage them in THEIR walk with the Lord. And look at what happens when we do that… WE catch fire. Just like the Apostles who were ignited by Paul’s fire, WE are changed when we reach out to people around us…. And that is what this is all about. We are here to be changed. We are the Body, we receive the body, and we become the body.
Without Barnabas, we might never have heard of Paul. In fact, half of the New Testament would never have been written. Much of what God needed to tell us through Paul’s letters would not have been said. God needed Barnabas. The Church needed Barnabas. WE needed Barnabas.
I want each of us to do a little homework. Think this week about who has been your Barnabas. Think of that person or persons in your life who have encouraged you – somebody who when out of their way a little bit to help you out, and it changed your life. I’ll share a couple of my own stories as an example.
Some of you have heard this story... Back in 2000 when I first applied to enter the class to become a deacon, I was rejected. They had so many men apply that they decided to leave us young guys until the next class. I was a bit bummed, but accepted it as God’s will. Then, a buddy of mine, Jim...without my knowledge, wrote a letter to the Bishop recommending that the he reconsider and accept me into the class. A few weeks later, miraculously, a spot opened up in the class… and I got a phone call. I can honestly say that without that letter, I would not be here today. Jim was my Barnabas.
Also, you may not know this, but up until a year before I was ordained, I could not read in front of a group. I can't explain it...I would just hyperventilate. Fortunately, people at work and here at church encouraged me... They might not have thought they were doing anything noteworthy, but those words of kindness had a deep impact on me. Those people were Barnabas for me.
I can think of other people... I won’t mention her name, but there is a lady in our parish who I think is a saint. She always has an encouraging word. When I first came here, she immediately made me feel welcome – and I hear that from many other people who have come here. She is a Barnabas. So- think about it: Who is your Barnabas? It’s enlightening to actually put your finger on the person or persons who changed your life.
And then, finally- think about who are YOU a Barnabas for? Is there anyone who will look back on their life and point to a YOU as their Barnabas? Is there a young person or co-worker or family member who needs to be built up? The world around us needs us to be Barnabas. Is there a young person who needs your encouragement to consider the priesthood or religious life? The CHURCH needs us to be Barnabas….”sons of encouragement”.