Thursday, June 11, 2009

eyes and ears

Today's the feast of St. Barnabas for those of us where Corpus Christi is deferred to Sunday; elsewhere in the Catholic world, today is the Feast of Corpus Christi itself--on a Thursday, as a kind of "match" to the day of the Last Supper, when Jesus first told us "this is my body" ("corpus meum"). St. Thomas' wonderful poem for the Feast gives pride of place to the ears that "alone most safely are believed" when we try to discern the Real Presence. We can trust what the Lord said ("this is my body") more than what our eyes tell us when we look on the Eucharist. St. Barnabas, on the other hand, shows us what our eyes could tell us, if we had vision like his.

Barnabas was sent (when news about Gentile believers "reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem"--ears again!) and Luke tell us that Barnabas "saw the grace of God." ("Blessed are the eyes that see what you see," Barnabas!) There are many parts, but one body of Christ. And if Barnabas was the eyes, Saul would soon become the ... mouth!

Speaking of Saul (Paul), where was he? What was he doing?

If you make a kind of timeline of Paul's life, reconstructing it on the basis of what we find in the Acts of the Apostles and his own letters, there is a kind of "black hole" of 5-8 years between his being part of the community in Jerusalem (and being sent from there to Tarsus in the province of Cilicia) and the beginning of his ministry in Antioch and then to the world. There's no hint that Saul had any success as a preacher during this period, but there is a hint that he was trying to preach in the local synagogues: in 2 Corinthians he mentions three times when he received the "39 lashes"--a synagogue penalty for violations of the Torah (preaching a crucified Messiah could have fallen under that category). But it wasn't all suffering and failure, even though Saul seems to have been very much on his own, humanly speaking. Paul also (in that same 2 Corinthians) mentions an extraordinary spiritual experience--being "taken up to the 3rd heaven" (in Jewish mysticism, that's the throne of God). He even dates it: "fourteen years ago." From this clue, we can date Saul's lonely time in Tarsus to the years around 43 A.D. And shortly after this, "Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul."
Even though the image (like most images of Paul and Barnabas) puts Paul in the forefront, we owe it to Barnabas and his ability to see the grace of God that Saul was ever brought out of exile in his hometown of Tarsus to come and minister among the nations.

1 comment:

Enbrethiliel said...


Sr. Anne, I think this is a wonderful reflection. St. Barnabas is one of my favourite saints in the world, and I never tire of reading or hearing about him. Thank you!