Do you remember the story of the homeless man visiting a Church for the first time? The homeless man was on his way into a Church on a Sunday morning, and one of the ushers stopped him outside the Church at the door and asked if he needed help. He replied, “I was praying, and God told me to come to this Church.” The usher said, “Well, I suggest you go back and pray more, perhaps God will tell you something different.” The following Sunday, the homeless man was there again, and the same usher stopped him at the door and asked, “Did you get a different answer?” The homeless man nodded and said, “Yes, I did. I told God you didn’t want me here, but God said, ‘Keep trying, Son. I have also been trying to get into that Church for several years, and they wouldn’t let me, but I have not given up.’”

Saul was a dangerous persecutor of Christians before his conversion on his way to Damascus. After his conversion, he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and the rest of the Christian community. Today’s first reading tells us that “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Would you blame those who were afraid of Saul? If you take your time to read what he did to Christians before now, you will wonder why they even stood to listen to him.

But there was someone who acted differently. The reading tells us that “Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” Thanks to Barnabas, that Saul eventually found his way to the apostles and gained credibility as a Christian missionary.

Who was Barnabas? He was one of the earliest followers of Jesus. His original name was Joseph. His contemporaries later called him Barnabas, which means “Son of encouragement.” They must have studied his life, and many people must have given testimonies of how he encouraged and motivated them to live their Christian lives. He has proven to be worthy of the name in today’s passage. Saul had a bad name among Christians. Barnabas had a good name. As an outgoing and discerning Christian, he had access to the complete story of Saul. He could have preserved his good name and kept quiet when others rejected Saul, but he chose to risk his good name and stick his neck out for Saul. He vouched for Saul before the Christians and took him to the apostles.

Today’s first reading invites us to examine ourselves as Christians. How welcoming are we to new members in our Churches? What is our response when someone wants to be part of our ministry or society? How do we treat people when we know of the bad things they did in the past? Do we feel threatened when new people join our Church? Are we generous enough to risk our good names by welcoming sinners into our Church?

Yes, the early Christians did not lie against Saul when they saw him as the one who persecuted Christians in the past. But there was more to the story of Saul. He is now a new man in Christ, but they would not give him a chance.

Imagine that Barnabas was not in Church the day Saul showed up. Imagine that Barnabas kept his mouth shut when others rejected Saul. Imagine that Barnabas was more interested in protecting his good name. There would have been no St. Paul as we know him; the letters from St. Paul would have been absent from the New Testament. Imagine the New Testament without St Paul. Imagine Christianity without St. Paul. It is thanks to Barnabas that we have Paul in the Church. But that is not the end of the story. There are many Sauls out there who want to enter the Church, but so many Christians are too holy and have become obstacles. The Church needs another Barnabas to be the bridge. The Church needs another son of encouragement; the Church needs another daughter of encouragement. Will you be today’s Barnabas?

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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