June 11

St. Barnabas

According to Acts, Barnabas cast a large shadow in the early Church. The faithful at Jerusalem saw as the “go to guy,” the responsible person who got the job done. They also considered him a model follower, full of faith and the Spirit, and a man of impeccable moral living. By celebrating his feast day, the Church holds him up as a measure of our Christian character.

Acts 11:21B-26; 13:1-3

11:21b A large number of believing (ones) turned back to the LORD. 22 Word about them was heard in the ears of the church residing in Jerusalem and (the community leaders) sent Barnabas [to travel] to Antioch. 23 He, arriving and seeing the grace of God, rejoiced and encouraged everyone with devote hearts to cling to the LORD, 24 since he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and (one) of faith, and a multitude was added to the LORD. 25 Then he left for Tarsus, seeking out Paul 26 and finding him, so (he) brought him to Antioch. (They) were (there) for an entire year to gather with the church and to teach the large crowds. Hence, (it was) in Antioch the disciples were called Christians.

13:1 (There) were in the church of Antioch acting as prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manean (a close friend of Herod the Tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. 2 While they served the LORD and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task which I have called them.” 3 After fasting and praying and placing hands on them, (the church) sent them (on their way).

According to Acts 4:36-37, Barnabas (named “joseph”) was a Helenistic Levite from Cyrene who contributed to the community in Jerusalem. Soon, he gained fame as a righteous man, filled with faith and the Spirit. He had an effect on the people he visited. At Antioch, he exhorted the community to faithfulness and he effectively evangelized. Yet, he had a big enough heart to befriend Paul and sponsor him before the mother Church at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-27).

Barnabas accompanied Paul on the latter’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3). They also took a relative of Barnabas, John Mark on the way (Acts 13:4-5). They met with a level of success (Acts 13:42-52, 14:1-3, 8-18, 21-27) After their return to Antioch, both traveled to Jerusalem to settle the controversy over their mission to the Gentiles (Acts 15:1-35). However, the pair split over the immaturity of John Mark (Acts 15:36-41).

Paul mentioned Barnabas frequently in Romans and Galatians.

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Matthew 5:20-26

20 For I say to you that if you do not greatly exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 You heard it said by the ancients (of our people), “Do not murder” (and) “who might commit murder will be (subject) to the judgment of ‘guilty.’” 22 But I say to you anyone being angry with his brother will be subject to the judgment of “guilty.” Whoever calls his brother “Raca” will be (condemned) as guilty before the Council. Whoever calls (his brother) a fool will be (condemned) as guilty in the fire of Gehenna. 23 So, if you should offer your gift on the altar and your should remember there that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go, first be reconciled with your brother and then, having returned, offer your gift. 25 Become friendly in a quick manner with your opponent while you are with him along the way (to court), so your opponent does not turn you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you should be thrown in jail. 26 Amen, I say to you, (you) indeed will not leave from there until you repay the last penny.

5:21 “...the ancients (of our people)...” This phrase refers to Moses and those of Exodus generations.

“Do not murder” is from Exodus 20:13.

“who might commit murder will be (subject) to the judgment of ‘guilty’” echoes Deuteronomy 17:8

“...(subject) to the judgment of ‘guilty.’” Unlike modern American juris prudence, Roman law assumed the guilt of the person brought before the court, but did allow for a defense and due process.

5:22 “Raca” has a root in Aramaic that means “empty.” An English equivalent might be “empty headed,” but the type of insult the word implies is unclear.

“Council” is the Sanhedrin, the de facto city council before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

“...fool...” This insult implies not only rash action, but impiety. In the Old Testament, the godless were called fools (Psalm 14:1 and 94:8, Deuteronomy 32:6, Jeremiah 5:21); there are some New Testament uses of the term, especially in Matthew (7:26, 23:17,19, 25:2,3,8).

“Gehenna” The name of a valley southwest of Jerusalem where human sacrifices had been offered. During the time of Jesus, the valley was used as a city dump; refuse was constantly burned. The notion of unthinkable sin and burning point for refuse fused together into a concept for hell, a place of punishment for the wicked.

5:23-25 Jesus used two analogies of reconciliation: worship and lawsuits. It is better to reconcile with an opponent than to worship God with a guilty conscience. It is better to reconciled with an opponent than to be sued by him and thrown into debtor’s prison. In either case, we must presume that the dispute Jesus implied had a public dimension; otherwise, the worship of the unreconciled and the civil case against a debtor would bring scandal.

5:26 This verse continued the civil suit analogy. The “penny” was literally a “codrantes” a Greek transliteration for a Roman coin of the lowest denomination.

In the first century, pagans held Jews in high regard for their ancient traditions and their morality. As experts in the Law, Pharisees were the “gold standard” of Jewish ethics in the Diaspora. Yet, in Matthew, Jesus expected more from his followers. He wanted the disciples to outshine their religious competitors.

One of the results of biblical studies into the Torah at the time of Jesus was the fluidity of what we call “Law.” We moderns read legality into the term, but it meant much more than that. “Torah” and “Law” could have legal implications, but it could also mean divine direction and divine revelation. These terms were an embodiment of what Christians called “the movement of the Spirit.”

With this caveat in mind, we can see how Jesus interpreted the commandment against murder. Jesus did not address prohibition against the taking of a life; that imperative was apparent in the commandment. No, Jesus was concerned how breaking the commandment affected one’s relationship with God. Remember, keeping the commandment of the “Law” not only meant legal compliance, it meant living out the divine will. According to this thinking, if I do what God wants me to do, I CAN experience God. Jesus used extreme language to make his point. Simple insults violated the spirit of the commandment. And, reconciling a relationship hurt by angry words even trumped worship of God (after all, how can someone enjoy God’s presence when they are either angry or feel guilty over angry words?). In this dual approach (against even small insults and for reconciliation), Jesus addressed how one could keep the commandment in its purest form.

In Barnabas, we have a model of the Christian evangelist. He was a man of faith and high moral living. He was effective in gathering others to Christ. Thus, he stands as an inspiration to us as we struggle to share the gospel with our family and friends, even strangers in our midst.