Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Today's first reading (from Acts) doesn't give the slightest hint of it, but in Luke's narrative, something is about to explode. Amazingly, it is a continuation of a theme of the entire Bible: that God "chooses the things that are not"; that God tends to turn our expectations upside down, not respecting our priorities or our established order. Where we expect the first-born to take precedence, God chooses the youngest; where we expect nobility, God chooses poverty.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we see Barnabas, the "Son of Consolation," the chosen envoy of the Twelve, the one named first (three times in a row) among the prophets and teachers in the Church of Antioch. It is only natural to expect that Barnabas will be the anointed leader... And we would have places around the world named for him: St. Barnabas, MN; São Barnabé, Brazil; the Basilica of St. Barnabas-Outside-the-Walls, Rome... and I'd be a Daughter of St. Barnabas. But that's not the way it works. God turns our expectations upside down. And it happens in Acts 13, just a few verses after today's reading ends. "Saul, who was called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit..."
It is Paul's Pentecost. From now on, Luke will write about "Paul and Barnabas," not the other way around. Barnabas had been the one to recognize the sincerity of Saul's conversion, and had vouched for him in the Christian assemblies. Barnabas had even gone to look for Saul (who had retreated to Tarsus), and brought him to Antioch as a helper. Now Saul, Paul, became the apostolic powerhouse, the "chosen vessel to bring My name to the gentiles."
Barnabas could not have done it. There would never have been a St. Barnabas, MN or São Barnabé, Brazil because Barnabas seems not to have been able to tolerate conflict. Paul (who not only tolerated conflict, but seemed to foment it!) wrote about the beginning split between Jew and Gentile in the apostolic Church, that "even Barnabas" began to pull away from "eating with" the Gentile believers--in other words, conflict had gotten so out of controle that even Barnabas, the first missionary to the Gentiles, began consenting to a segregated Eucharist. With Barnabas at the helm of the mission to the Gentiles, the whole course of western history would have been different. Barnabas' vocation, it turns out, had been at the service of Paul's.
God doesn't do things our way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your explanation of this morning's reading. Daughters of Barnabas just does not have the same "ring"to it. spqr