Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn. 3:18-24; Jn. 15:1-8
A Hard Man is Good to Find
1. In today’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5). Christian life must be rooted in Christ and directed by the relationship shared in and with Him. Therefore, Christians must live in such a way as to say with St. Paul “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20). To grow and live with and in Christ demands compatibility of character. The risk in organ transplant is the rejection of the foreign body by the donor body: incompatibility. If husband and wife are not compatible, that marriage has no future. In the same way without compatibility of character between Jesus and His disciples, no growth, nor fruition, or intimacy is possible. As sinful people, we need the pruning, purification and the cleansing effect of the Holy Spirit to make us compatible with sinless Jesus. We must align our priorities with Him so as to function and bear fruit as his disciples.
2. This brings us to the first reading. Saul the persecutor who had tried to destroy the Church and dragged men and women to prison was converted on his way to Damascus. He is now preaching the same Christ that he was against. In Jerusalem, Paul’s new religion and his enthusiasm to preach Christ as the Lord is met with stiff opposition, suspicion and doubts. Was it not Paul who gave permission for Stephen to be stoned to death? How can he be trusted? He was snubbed, avoided and kept at a distance. We are told, “When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts. 9:26). How lonely Paul must have felt. Did he make a mistake? Did Christ really speak to him on that road? These thoughts must have gone through his mind. Then someone by the name of Barnabas also called Joseph came to his rescue. He was a Levite, a Cypriot by birth. The Apostles named him Barnabas meaning ‘Son of Encouragement’. He was “a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:23). He embodied the life of early Christians.
3. Barnabas did not only epitomize the early Christians life, but he was also a branch that sprung from the Divine Vine - Jesus. He lived the life of Christ and knew that to bear fruit he had to align his values, his ethics, his identity, his personality and his priorities with Christ. He came to Paul’s rescue and took charge of him. He vouched for him and became his spokesperson. One wonders how life would have been for Paul but for someone like Barnabas. We need people like Barnabas to support us, to encourage and to believe in us. We need people who see potentials in us and will not judge us from the one mistake we may have made in the past. Barnabas showed himself a real Christian in the way he treated Paul. He saw that Paul was made in the image and likeness of God, therefore, should be redeemed and not condemned. He believed in the best in others. While others saw Paul as a spy, Barnabas saw him as an asset, an instrument to bring the Gospel of Christ to the gentiles. How wonderful would our world be if we had more people like Barnabas. Those who are not afraid of people, are not suspicious and cynical, but who see themselves in everyone and tries to help others succeed. These Hard Men are good to find.
4. According to William Barclay, “The world is largely divided into those who think the best of others and those who think the worst; and it is one of the curious facts of life that ordinarily we see our reflection in others and make them what we believe them to be. If we insist on regarding a man with suspicion, we will end by making him do suspicious things. If we insist on believing in a man, we will end by compelling him to justify that belief.” We must be like Jesus in the way we treat others, especially those who do not look, think and talk like us. Barnabas was that man. Like Jesus, he did not allow someone’s past to influence his judgement against him. A person should not be condemned forever just because he once made a mistake. In a game of baseball, the rule is: three strikes, and you are out. We can apply the same rule to the way we treat those who have wronged us, knowing that Christ tells us to make it up to seventy-seven times. (Matt. 18:22). For “If you, O Lord, should make our guilt, Lord, who would survive.” (Ps. 130:3). Never condemn someone because he had once committed an offence. There is still room for change if we give him an opportunity to do so.
5. The early Christian community that produced a man of character like Barnabas “Were of one heart and mine, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts. 4:36-37). Their faith was rooted in Christ. Christ is the vine, and every Christian is a branch. We must be one with Christ and must grow in Him. If we do not, we become a withered, rejected branch which is dead and is good for nothing. When we are together in Christ, we bear fruit. St. John made this point in the second reading. When we get together and are united in Christ and with one another, we live a life of truth, love and peace. God relates with us in love and with love we must “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph. 4:32). Let us pray at this Mass that we may be Barnabas to one another. With people like Barnabas, our world will be a better place, a place where no one will be suspicious of others, where violence and hatred will give way to forgiveness, tolerance and love; where we will see the image of God in one another and so treat them as we would Christ, in love. In everything may we treat others as we would want them to treat us. For a hard man is good indeed to find. God knows we need those hard men in our lives today more than ever before. Amen.
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP