Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year B
[The Readings of the day are Acts 9; 1 John 3:18-24; and Gospel of John, 15:1-8]
We all likely know the story of St. Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. It was not simply a conversion, but a total surrender! A flash of light rendered him completely blind and Paul heard the voice of Jesus say: Be my disciple.
But now Paul is in real trouble. He was Christian enemy number one; the nemesis to the early Jesus movement, but now also considered a heretic and traitor to Judaism.
So when he shows up in Jerusalem supposedly a disciple, we can understand the fear and anxiety of the church. After all, he was the one responsible for St. Stephen’s martyrdom.
Paul is an exile. He’s been proclaiming Jesus as Lord, but now he is in trouble for it, not only from the Pharisees and Jewish religious establishment, but now he is being held suspect by the Church, or at least the leaders, the early bishops we might say, and even Pope Peter.
Fear can truly arrest people. New ideas scare folks. Many people fear change. People are often suspicious of newcomers. It could be a fear of different language, different cultural backgrounds, or even a fear of others who become knowledgeable in matters of faith.
There are those who have great insecurity when people think and pray and even do theology differently or, dare I say, fight poverty and economic injustice. We know there are those who would like have us keep our faith in the sanctuary and not challenge the social, economic, and/or political order, yet we are called to forge ahead with the full gospel.
So how is Paul going to join the Church community? Who will help him convince the leaders that he really is one of them?
He meets Barnabas!
Barnabas was of the Jewish priestly class, a Sadducee, who had come to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Now this in itself is amazing because the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead! But Barnabas was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit blew away all his old fears, fired his faith, and gave him the wisdom to proclaim the Good News of Christ!
And in Luke’s account, Barnabas not only believes in Christ, but he believes Paul’s story. And it is Barnabas that took charge of Paul and brought him to the other apostles. Barnabas is risking it all and surrenders his reputation for Paul’s sake. Barnabas loses himself all for the newcomer Paul, a former enemy of the faith. And when he does, the disciples receive Paul as their own.
But only because of Barnabas!
It took a Barnabas to bring the disciples and Paul together.
Barnabas was a nickname. Bar-nabas means “child of encouragement’ or “child of Consolation”. Each of us are called to be encouragers, consolers, encouraging one another in the faith, in love, in charity, in hope!
But, more trouble came for Paul when he spoke with and debated with the Hellenists, the Greeks. They tried to kill him!
There is a risk in discipleship. It is dangerous being a prophet, it’s dangerous being church!
It may remind us of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker. Dorothy was willing to risk her reputation for the sake of the gospel. She was not seen as a “good” Catholic by many in the church because of her subversive ministry to the despised, the powerless, downtrodden, and praying for and working for social and economic justice and peace.
Her bishop said to her, “Dorothy, there are those who say you and your companions are destroying the church.”
To which she replied: “I thought we were being the church.”
[And today there may be certain voices in the church who simply want parishioners who pray, pay, and obey, but we are called to be more than Catholic bobble-heads!
Our faith must be a lived reality, following Jesus Christ as a way of life!
So we have an inkling of why some religious people wanted to kill Paul. To the religious establishment, he was not only ruining Judaism, but he was ruining the Christian Way. He was breaking boundaries, even allowing women leaders and Gentiles to become followers of Christ.
In Paul’s letters he called certain women his fellow laborers and co-workers in the gospel. There were those who were very critical of his allowing women leadership positions in the Church. And [my wife said], don’t think the women were just darning the apostles’ socks or carrying their well-water either.
We only have to think of the thousands of religious sisters and lay Catholic women who are workers in the vineyard, teaching, comforting the sick and dying, prisoners, and assisting the immigrant, the hungry, the forgotten and the hopeless.
Really, it all began with Mary of Nazareth, who proclaimed: “Let it be done to me according to your Word!”
And later it was Mary Magdalene took the message of the
Resurrection of Christ to the fearful apostles hiding behind locked doors in the all important upper room where all theological decisions were being made!
[Or just one example among many, I could tell the story of St. Catherine of Siena – a doctor of the Church – who helped restore the church’s unity, but alas, that would be another homily.]
Suffice it to say, in the Christian community women were leaders.
As they are still today.
As for St. Paul, after the Greeks tried to kill him, the disciples send him to Tarsus, his home, where he could process his entire experience. Sort of a retreat of sorts. Paul's faith and ideas were a real challenge to Peter and the boys.
But what is so interesting in the first reading is that despite all the fear surrounding Paul and the desire to kill him, Luke immediately tells us that THE CHURCH WAS AT PEACE. Peace?
Really? The Church was at peace. How???
How can there be peace with so much distrust, fear, insecurity, and suspicion?
Where would this peace come from? How can there be peace?
Luke tells us it was “with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.”
St. John tells us in his gospel that there is a peace that only Christ Jesus can give.
So how can we as individuals and as a church community be at peace?
Well, what did Barnabas do?
Barnabas took the time to listen. He listened to Paul’s story. Barnabas made himself vulnerable. Barnabas surrendered his own concerns for the concern of another. Barnabas reconciled Paul with the church. Barnabas did not judge Paul.
Barnabas let go of himself…
And WHAT BARNABAS DID WE ARE CALLED TO DO.
For to be at peace is to be in Christ.
And Barnabas had found that peace.
And Barnabas shared that peace with Peter and Paul and all the church.
Because, you see, Barnabas was rooted in the vine of Christ.
You and I are called to be the Barnabases in others’ people lives.
Yes, there is a risk in ministry, yet Barnabas’ example shows us that to be church means to be at peace even amidst conflicts and differences.
With such encouraging words, can we imagine the great things the Lord will do through us, his weak human instruments, if we would but trust in Christ, being fruitful branches of Christ, wherever we are, and to whomever we encounter, regardless what some may say?!
Christ promises us that he will remain in us if we remain in him!
We hear the Word and take it in, and allow it to form us, and then when we approach this altar and receive the Eucharist, Christ will dwell within us in an intimate way, so that we might be Christ to one another.
As St. Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
So, we pray, O Lord, make us your branches like Barnabas to be your message of mercy to everyone we meet, to those who think they have no one, and let them know that there is a living Church community they can call home, where they can be tended to and nourished and allowed to grow.
O God, give us the courage to risk all and be like Barnabas, children of encouragement – to one another – and to a fearful world – that we might lead others to that peace which is beyond all our understanding and is found in you alone. Amen.