Yesterday was the Feast of St. Barnabas. I had wanted to provide some thoughts but work and family got in the way so this is a day late. This is not all bad as it extends the spirit of this interesting person.
Not much is known about St. Barnabas (whose original name was Joseph). He was born of Jewish parents on the island of Cyprus about the beginning of the Christian Era. As a Levite (from which tribe the Temple priests came), he naturally spent much time in Jerusalem, probably even before the death of Jesus. He even seems to have settled there, where his relatives, the family of John Mark, had their homes (Acts 12:12). According to the Acts, he also had land which, following his conversion, he sold and donated the proceeds to the Christian community (4:36-37).
According to Acts of the Apostles, Saul of Tarsus, after his conversion, went to Jerusalem where the Christians did not want to approach him, being highly suspicious of the genuineness of his conversion. It was Barnabas who brought Saul to the leaders and guaranteed Saul’s conversion as real (Acts 9:27).
One of the potential Gospel Readings today is Matthew 5:13-16, which is as follows:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”
The wonderful site, Sacred Space, run by the Irish Jesuits, has the following reflection on the salt analogy and what it means to be an authentic Christian today:
We are to be like salt; we are to give taste, zest to our environment. We do that through the specific outlook on life which we have and which we invite others to share. At their best, Christians have been very effective in doing this and have had a great impact on the values of many societies and in bringing about great changes.
To be tasteless salt is to be next to useless. Salt that has lost its taste is only fit to be thrown out. At the same time, in the West we sometimes, too, put some salt on the side of our plate. That salt, however, tasty it may be is still not doing any good unless it is put into the food. And this is an interesting feature of salt, namely, that it blends completely with food and disappears. It cannot be seen, but it can be tasted.
That reminds us that we as Christians, if we are to have the effect of giving taste, must be totally inserted in our societies. We have to resist any temptation, as Christians, to withdraw and separate ourselves from the world. It is a temptation we can easily fall into and there are many places in our cities where the Church is absent nowadays. There is no salt there. In our commercial districts, in our industrial areas, in our entertainment and media centres, where is the visible Christian presence?
St. Barnabas was salt to the Jews and Gentiles in the first century. Although he was a devout Jew, he accepted his call to share the Christian message to the Gentiles. He met people where they were and accepted even those who formerly persecuted him. May we be the salt to our communities in the 21st century.