Scripture Reflection for April 28, 2024, Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:26-31

Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32

1 Jn 3:18-24

Jn 15:1-8

The readings for this Fifth Sunday of Easter introduce us to someone we don't hear about very much. But he has a lot to say to us, especially now.

I'm talking about St. Barnabas.

The reading from Acts describes how he took Paul under his wing -- in part to protect him from frightened and suspicious Christians, but also to act as his mentor and guide.

So let's step back a moment. Just who was Barnabas? And why should we care about him? History tells us he was born into a wealthy Jewish family. At some point, he sold his estate and became a follower of Jesus. Later, after Paul arrived on the scene, it was Barnabas who introduced him to Peter. Some scholars think Barnabas and Paul had known each other when they were younger and had studied together under the same rabbi.

For several years, Barnabas and Paul worked together as missionaries. Barnabas was reportedly a prolific evangelizer, and some scholars believe he is the writer behind the letter to the Hebrews, the only epistle not attributed to a particular author.

Paul and Barnabas eventually had a falling out over Barnabas' cousin Mark -- the same Mark who wrote the gospel bearing his name -- because Paul had doubts about Mark's dedication to the faith.

But by one account, when Barnabas was finally martyred, around the year 61, it was Paul who helped to bury him. Despite any differences they may have had, Christian love prevailed.

Interestingly, "Barnabas" was not his given name. Just as Saul became Paul, Joseph was known as Barnabas after he became a Christian. The name "Barnabas" means "Son of Encouragement," and encouragement is exactly what he gave to the growing community of Christians -- and, undoubtedly, to Paul, as well.

Today, Barnabas is the patron saint of Cyprus, where he grew up. But as a result of the way he introduced Paul to the Christians, and managed to foster mutual respect when there was suspicion and mistrust, Barnabas is also the patron saint of peacemakers. Can anyone deny that we need his intercession today?

In the passage from John's Gospel, Jesus exhorts us to remain in him, like branches of a vine, and to bear good fruit.

And this Sunday's second reading, also from John, makes the message even more explicit: "Love one another, just as he commanded us."

In too many places today, that command is forgotten, or abandoned, or even mocked. Our world is scarred by lands that are now synonymous with conflict and bloodshed. Places like Ukraine, Gaza, Haiti, Ethiopia.

Add to these the battles being waged in other places too: in our families, in marriages, in politics. The landmines are everywhere. So is the division and pain, the polarization and contempt.

Survey the landscape and you realize that we live in a world hungry for peacemakers. But they are far too few.

We need "sons and daughters of encouragement." We need to pray for more Barnabases to rise up and remind us what too many have forgotten, our fundamental call as Christians: We are a faith founded on love.

Christ is the vine. We are his branches. We are fed by the fruits of his redeeming love, love that was poured out on Calvary and which we celebrate now, during this Easter season, because it is a love that conquered death, a love that conquered hate.

Let this be our prayer: that in the hopeful glow of Easter, we can live out the promise of the Resurrection and become witnesses to the Risen Christ by being in every way instruments of peace, encouragers of hope.

More than ever, each of us needs to be a Barnabas in the world.

- Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, "The Deacon's Bench."