Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Little children, love one another

The tomb of St John at Ephesus (photo Patrick Commerford)

Reflection at Morning Worship for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 12th September 2023

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another”, so says St Paul to the Romans (13:8-14), echoing Jesus’s words in St John’s Gospel (13:34), “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

This reminds me of a lovely story bequeathed to us by St Jerome, who is best remembered as the man who first translated the whole Bible into Latin in around 400AD. Known as the Vulgate, his translation was considered authoritative by the undivided Western Church.

Jerome tells the story that St John, the beloved disciple, continued to preach in Ephesus well into his 90s, even when he was so enfeebled with old age that he had to be carried into the Church on a stretcher. When he was no longer able to deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on each occasion and to say simply: “Little children, love one another.” This continued even when he was on his deathbed.

Then he would lie back, and his friends would carry him out. Every week in Ephesus, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.”

One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘Little children, love one another’?” And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is this: “Little children, love one another.”

After John’s death in the year 100AD when he was about 94 years old, he was buried on a hillside above the city of Ephesus. Later a great basilica was erected over the reputed site of his tomb. It has long been ruined, and was deserted when I visited it many years ago, but someone had left a fresh posy of wildflowers on the plaque marking the site of John’s last resting place.

St Paul goes on to urge the Roman Christians to wake up: ‘For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light’.

Paul does not only speak to the Romans - he speaks to each one of us, I suggest. As an older person, I feel this ever more strongly, as I realise the days left to me to earn my salvation are ever fewer. But I know that I will not go far wrong if I follow the way of Christ, loving God and loving my neighbour as myself.

Let us rejoice in God’s wisdom, the image of God’s goodness in the holy soul of St John, and say with him, ‘Little children, love one another’ – because it is enough.


Sunday, 3 September 2023

Finding life by losing it

Address given at Templederry & St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 3rd September 2023, the 13th after Trinity

‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block for me!’

What a shock it must have been for Peter to hear Jesus address him in these cutting words, as recorded by Matthew (16:21-28) in the reading we have just heard.

Peter had been the first to say, ‘You are the Messiah’, when Jesus had asked ‘Who do you say that I am?’ But now, ‘Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem … and be killed. Peter is shocked by Jesus’ words. Like most Jews of his day, he expected the promised Messiah to come as a great conqueror to destroy the gentiles – including the hated Romans - and to rule over a revived Kingdom of Israel. The Messiah would vanquish his foes, not be killed by them! So Peter remonstrates with Jesus: ‘Look here, Jesus, that can’t be right!’ he says - or words to that effect. Then Jesus turns on Peter and likens him to Satan.

Why was Jesus so hard on Peter, his great friend and disciple? Jesus knew that God’s way was not the way of violent earthly conquest, but the way of self-sacrificing love. He needed to teach Peter and the other disciples to change their thinking. I feel sure Jesus didn’t want to die a painful death, but he must have realised this was the inevitable outcome of what God called him to do. He was determined to face it bravely. But Peter tries to argue him out of it, in an echo of Satan’s tempting in the wilderness.

Isn’t this often the way it is? When we’ve made up our minds what is the right thing to do, even at a cost to ourselves, our friends and loved ones may try to talk us out of it. The tempter can be the very person dearest to us! Yet we must not allow even the pleading voice of love to stop us from doing God’s will. This surely is what Jesus felt that day – no wonder he responded as he did.

Jesus immediately seized the moment to show the disciples his way, the way of the cross, how to find life by losing it. It is worth reflecting on his words, which go to the very heart of our Christian faith.

 If any want to become my followers’, says Jesus, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Jesus’s honesty is startling, isn’t it? No one can ever say Jesus lures his disciples to follow him on false pretences! He does not offer them – he does not offer us - an easy life or a comfortable way to God. Like other great leaders, he calls us as Churchill did to ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’. But again like a real leader, he does not call us to do anything more than he was prepared to do himself.

First Jesus calls us to ‘deny ourselves’, to say no to our own selfish instincts. We must do God’s will, not our own will, to the best of our ability, in all things.

But more than simply practicing self-denial, Jesus tells us we must be prepared to take real risks – even to risk our very lives – if that is what God, through our conscience, tells us is right.

For those who want to save their life will lose it’, says Jesus, ‘and those who lose their life for my sake, will find it.

Jesus focuses our attention with this great paradox: to save life is to lose it, and vice-versa.

The very essence of life is in risking it and spending it, not in saving it and hoarding it. If we live selfishly, always thinking first of our own security, profit and comfort, not of others, then we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we follow Jesus’s way of loving self-sacrifice, we are winning life all the time.

The truth is that the only way we can find a life that matters is by losing it in the love of God and the love of our neighbours. That is the way of Jesus, that is the way of God, and that is the way of happiness too.

For what will it profit them’, says Jesus, ‘if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

I’m sure you, like me, can think of people who are outwardly hugely successful, but who in another sense are living a life that is not worth living. In business, they may have sacrificed honour for profit. In politics, they may have sacrificed principle for popularity. In their personal lives, they may have sacrificed their deepest relationships for their own ambitions or desires. Whatever the reason, such people are usually not comfortable inside their own skin. They often regret their bad choices.

It is a matter of values really - Jesus is asking us where our values lie. As he says elsewhere, you should store up your treasures in heaven, not on earth, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Our values should be God’s values, as Jesus reveals them to us, not the false values of worldly success.

‘For the Son of Man’, says Jesus, is to come with his angels in the glory of the Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

Jesus knows that many people do not like what he says and how he behaves. He stands up for the poor, the despised, the rejected, and he befriends sinners. And the scribes and the Pharisees – the pious and the respectable - attack him for it. With these words Jesus warns his disciples that they will be judged for their actions.

It is a simple truth: we cannot expect to share with Jesus the joy of shaping the world into the place God means it to be, if we are not prepared to act on Jesus’s message of loving self-sacrifice.

So, to sum up, when I reflect on these words recorded by Matthew, I hear Jesus’s voice calling me. Calling me down through the ages:

  • to be ready to take risks to do God’s will, rather than my own;
  • to find true life and happiness by losing my life in the service of God and others;
  • to live my life by God’s values, not the false values of worldly success.
  • to follow joyfully Jesus’s way of loving self-sacrifice.

Let us pray for the grace to respond to Jesus’s voice:

O God,
whose Son has shown the way of the cross
to be the way of life:
transform and renew our minds
that we may not be conformed to this world
but may offer ourselves wholly to you
as a living sacrifice
through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen


Tuesday, 8 August 2023


 A reflection at Morning Worship for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 8th August 2023.

A 'Brocken Spectre' captured on Croagh Patrick.
The spectre is the shadow of a climber cast onto a mist below,
wrapped in a glory formed by sun light scattered
from water droplets in the mist.

A reflection on Luke’s account of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), Peter, James and John’s intense spiritual and emotional experience, set for last Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Jesus has brought the three disciples with him high on a mountain to pray. There they see Jesus transfigured, in dazzling white clothing, his face changed, and alongside him Elijah and Moses. As cloud envelopes them they hear a voice saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’. The same story is also told by Matthew and Mark.

Luke gives us a clue as to what the disciples saw, I think. They are high on a mountain, with cloud around. These are just the circumstances where we may see an optical effect called a ‘Glory’. In this effect sunlight is scattered back from water droplets in a mist, as a glowing halo. The technical term for this is Mie scattering.

Historically, the most famous example is the ‘Brocken Spectre’, seen by climbers on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz Mountains in Germany. This appears when a low sun is behind a climber who is looking downwards into mist from a ridge or peak. The spectre is the shadow of the observer projected onto the mist, and it is surrounded by the glowing halo of a glory. You may be lucky enough to see one yourself, as I did when I looked down from a plane at the shadow it cast on a cloud. The shadow was surrounded with a halo of light – this was the glory.

I imagine Peter and James and John close together on the mountain, with Jesus praying a little bit away, as the clouds swirl around them. Where Jesus had stood, they each suddenly see a glowing figure – it’s their own shadow cast on a cloud, wrapped in a glory - and two other shadows beside it, those of their companions.

This physical explanation takes nothing away from the transfiguration story for me. Rather it helps me believe in the reality of the Transfiguration, that it was not invented by the Gospel writers to serve their own artistic or theological purposes. I believe that God is present in and works through the laws of the universe he created. Peter, James and John accurately reported what they saw, even if they could not understand the physics. What matters surely is what this revealed to them about the nature of Jesus and his relationship with God.

They are awed by what they see. They identify the three figures with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter, always the impulsive one, calls out to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’. Peter didn’t want this emotional moment to end – such a human response!

Then the cloud closes in around them. All three are terrified, and they hear a voice as if from heaven, saying ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

This rings very true to me. When people suddenly understand something truly important, something which changes everything, they often talk of having a ‘flash of inspiration’ or ‘hearing a voice’. We may not have had such a religious experience ourselves, but we may have felt something like it. For instance, in the moment we realise that this very person I am with now is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.

I believe the Transfiguration was the moment on their long road when Peter, James and John understood their complete commitment to Jesus and his teaching. Starting from the call in Galilee, this road led them ultimately to Jerusalem, to the Cross, to the Resurrection, to the Ascension, and on to Pentecost, the birth of the Church. They told no one about it at the time, but they never forgot this moment of insight, for they passed the story on to Matthew, Mark and Luke, and so to ourselves.

We too, in faith, can hear the voice of God say to us from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

Sunday, 23 July 2023

Parable of the weeds

Burning the tares

Address given at St Cronan's Church, Tuamgraney on Sunday 23 July 2023, the 7th after Trinity

Have you heard the old joke about the hell-fire preacher?

As he reaches the climax of his sermon about the day of judgement, in ringing tones he declares the fate of those who fail to meet the standards of God’s Kingdom: ‘They will be thrown into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. At which point an old woman puts up her hand and says, “But Rector, I have no teeth”; to which the hell-fire preacher replies, “Madam, teeth will be provided”.

Joking aside, it is always worth pondering the parables Jesus uses to teach his followers. The parable of the weeds of the field in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel (13:24-30, 36-43) is no exception. So let’s look at it a little more closely.

The images Jesus uses in his parable would have been very vivid and familiar to a Galilean audience.

Weeds were one of the curses against which a farmer had to labour before the discovery of weed-killers. In this parable the weed is no doubt bearded darnel, a kind of rye-grass. In its early stages darnel is indistinguishable from wheat. Only when they both produce seed-heads can they be told apart. But by then their roots are so intertwined that the darnel can’t be weeded out without damaging the roots of the wheat. Weeding would only reduce the yield.

The wheat and darnel can’t be safely separated while they are growing, but in the end they must be, because the grain of the darnel is slightly poisonous. In quantity it causes dizziness and sickness. So the master in the parable gets the reapers to separate them at harvest time. The darnel will be bundled up and burned, while the wheat will be threshed and gathered into the barn.

The idea of an enemy deliberately sowing weeds in someone else’s field would also have struck a chord. It was a crime forbidden in Roman law, which prescribed a punishment for it, so we can be sure it happened.

Jesus tells the crowd that the parable is about the kingdom of heaven, and Matthew records him later explaining it to his disciples, to help them – and us – understand what he meant by it. It is one of several parables recorded by Matthew in which Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to different things – others are a mustard seed and yeast. Jesus is teaching by analogy, and I feel sure we should not take it too literally, but rather look for the underlying messages.

It is the devil, says Jesus, who sows the weeds, the children of the evil one, in the field which is the world.

We all know instinctively, don’t we, what is right and what is wrong. We have been created as souls with consciences - in the image of God, to use the imagery of the Book of Genesis. But we all also experience insistent little voices within us which tempt us to do what our God-given conscience tells us is not right. Theologians call it original sin, and Jesus personifies it as the work of the devil. But in our culture it may be easier to think of it as the bad part of ourselves, that part of own psyche which allows and encourages us to damage ourselves and others.

An example of this is the way many advertising campaigns play on our innate greed by whispering, ‘Because you’re worth it’. They tell women that they will look younger and more beautiful if they buy this or that cosmetic product containing plastic microbeads which are not biodegradable and pollute waterways and oceans. They tell men that they will be more powerful and live more exciting lives if they buy a new car which will pollute the air in cities and damage health. It is the thin end of a very fat wedge. Further down that wedge we find unscrupulous interests that seek to persuade us that we and our communities cannot afford to take the steps needed to prevent catastrophic climate change.

As Christians we must resist the insistent little voices that urge us to do wrong, to sin. For as St Paul recognises (Romans 8:12-25), we have been given the Spirit of God to help us resist them. ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’.

Jesus warns us against pulling the weeds in case we uproot the wheat.

He is teaching us not to be too quick in our judgements of others. We are all too liable to classify and label people as good or bad without knowing all the facts. And people can change. We can be redeemed from sin by the grace of God, and equally we can disfigure a good life by a sudden collapse into sin. As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘Let he that is without sin cast the first stone’.

We are not entitled to make a final judgement about the righteousness of any other person – only God has that right. It is God alone who can discern the good and the bad. It is God alone who sees all of an individual and all of a person’s life.

Of course we can’t help forming opinions of others, using our reason which is also God-given. And it is surely right that we should let such opinions guide our actions when appropriate. But we must never forget we may be mistaken. And we would do well to remember the Quaker maxim – ‘There is something of God in every person’ – and try to find it.

We must leave judgement of others to God. But God will judge each one of us eventually.

‘Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

When Jesus talks about the ‘end of the age’, I don’t think we should take it literally as the end of time. Rather I think we should see it as a time which will come to us all – as certain as our own death – in which we see ourselves as God sees us, in one piece from our conception to our death, how we have touched those we have met, all the good in us, and all the bad too.

At this time we shall see clearly. We will burn in the torment of shame for our sins and the evil we have done in our lives. We will weep and gnash our teeth. But for the good we have done, we ‘will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father’.

I shall finish with the Collect of the Word for today

Saving God,
in Jesus Christ you opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
give us pure and constant wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Sunday, 16 July 2023

Sowing the seed

Address given at Templederry on Saturday 15 July 2023 & St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 16 July 2023, the 6th after Trinity

Today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel (13:1-9, 18-23) is commonly called the Parable of the Sower.

But what is a parable? A parable is a story describing a scene from everyday life, which conveys a deeper meaning. I think Jesus taught so often in parables because they conjure up memorable images, which lead those who hear them to reflect on their meanings, and to discover the truth in them for themselves. However in this case, Jesus chooses to explain it to his disciples, when they ask him why he speaks in parables. No lesson is better learned than one you tease out for yourself! Parables are a bit like slow-release fertilizer, gradually yielding up their truth to people who ponder them.

The parable of the sower comes in Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels as well as Matthew’s, and in startlingly similar words. Scholars believe the vivid image was remembered and recorded, and an edited version was used by the Gospel writers when they composed their texts years later. All three Gospels also contain the same authoritative explanation by Jesus of what the story means.

So let us in our imaginations picture the scene, let us reflect on the parable’s meaning, and let us tease out its relevance for us now, 2000 years later.

Let us enter into the parable in our mind’s eye.

So many people wanted to listen to Jesus that he used a boat to address the crowd on the beach. The beach was on a lake, the Sea of Galilee. I’ve never been there, but I see it as rather like Lough Derg. It’s about 40% larger in area, and wider but not so long. Imagine the people crowded on the beach at Dromineer, and Jesus in a lake boat talking to them.

Did Jesus see a man sowing in a nearby field? Perhaps this prompted the parable, and everyone could literally see what he was talking about.

The sower isn’t using a seed-drill; he is broadcasting the seed by hand, just as our ancestors would have done only 150 years or so ago. The seed is in a bag or a basket, and he walks steadily up and down the field, taking a handful of seed and throwing it out as evenly as he can. Even at a distance it is quite clear to everyone what he is doing: they have seen it hundreds of times before, and many have done it themselves.

Imagine a big field divided like allotments into strips belonging to one family, with paths between them, tramped down hard by the passage of many feet. The crowd can see the birds following the sower swooping down to gobble up the seed that inevitably falls on the path, for all the sower’s skill.

Everyone would understand that different parts of the field are of different quality.

# Some parts are stony: don’t imagine small pebbles, imagine great sheets of rock just under the surface, with just a few inches of soil on top, like parts of the Burren, for instance. The soil above the rock warms early, and the seeds germinate quickly, but without a depth of soil the young seedlings will soon run out of nutrients and water and shrivel up in the sun.

# Some parts of the field are infested with perennial weeds: imagine scutch grass and creeping thistle, which will quickly outgrow the delicate crop, choking it.

# But other parts of the field are good land, with a deep, clean soil. Here the crop will have nutrients and water enough. It will flourish and produce a harvest of thirty, or sixty, or a hundred times the grain sown on it.

Jesus said many other things to the crowd that day in parables, we’re told. We don’t know what they were, but I think we can take it that Jesus was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom’ as Matthew tells us elsewhere (Mat 9:35).

‘Let anyone with ears listen!’ Jesus finishes.

Jesus himself explains the parable in terms of ‘the word of the kingdom … sown in the heart’.

When his disciples ask him why he teaches in parables, Jesus interprets the parable for them, no doubt to reassure them that they do indeed understand what he is getting at: 

# The seed sown on the path is the word heard, but not understood, which the evil one snatches away, before it ever has the chance to sprout.

# The seed sown on rocky ground is the word received with joy, but by a person without roots, without character, whose initial enthusiasm cannot withstand trouble or persecution.

#The seed sown among thorns is the word heard by those who are so trapped by worldly cares and the lure of wealth that they cannot act upon it.

# And the seed sown on good soil is the word heard by those who understand it, and act upon it. Only such people will yield a harvest of good.

Like those who crowded to the lakeshore 2000 years ago, we are the soil in which Jesus sows the seed.

On a personal level, the message of his parable remains what it was then: we need to cultivate our characters so that as good soil we yield a rich harvest. Each one of us must strive to develop the character traits of attention, persistence, and detachment. Attention, so that we do not miss God’s call when it comes. Persistence, so that we can withstand trouble or persecution when we answer God’s call. And detachment, so that we are not distracted from acting on God’s call by the cares of the world and the pursuit of wealth.

For Jesus, the sower is one who proclaims ‘the word of the kingdom’.

That is himself of course. But it is also his closest disciples, the twelve apostles, whom he sent out saying ‘Proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near”’ (Mat 10:5-7). No doubt the twelve took comfort from the parable that even when their teaching seemed to show poor results, enough people would accept it to make it all worthwhile.

Before his ascension Jesus commissioned the apostles to go out and make disciples of all nations. Their commission was handed on to others in the developing Church, which in all its varied denomination still proclaims Jesus’s good news of the kingdom today. In Paul’s memorable words Christians are all part of Christ’s body the Church. Today the Church is the sower. Is there then a message for the Church in this parable? I believe there is.

The Church’s sowing of the seed may not seem to be producing a good harvest these days. The fact is that here in Ireland and in Europe generally, taking a broad view across all denominations, more and more people are losing contact with Christ’s Church. We see falling Church attendance, fewer baptisms, and insufficient ordinations to maintain the stock of full time clergy. We need to understand why and do something about it, and for that we need the Holy Spirit to guide us.

But we should not despair. Jesus himself was completely realistic about the prospects for his teaching, and so should we be as the Church. As Jesus realised, no matter how good a job we do as sowers, the sad fact is that many people will not become his disciples, and will not be led to the kingdom of heaven by his or the Church’s teaching. Yet those who do, make up for those that don’t by the rich harvest of good seed they yield – as Jesus put it, 30, 60 or 100 fold.

So to sum up, we can learn these things today from the parable of the sower:

As Christians we need to cultivate the soil of our own characters, to develop the Christian virtues of attention, persistence, and detachment from the world, so that we may yield a plentiful harvest of good grain.

And we should not despair at the state of Christ’s Church today. Rather we should rejoice in the rich harvest of Christian souls the Lord already has. And we must pray for the Holy Spirit of God to guide his Church, and each one of us, to be better sowers of the word in future, so that the Lord’s harvest may be even greater.

Tuesday, 11 July 2023

Labouring in the Lord's harvest

Reflection for Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 11 July 2023

Our reading (Matthew 9:32-38), set for today in the Common Lectionary, tells us that ‘Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness’

Bear with me, as I imagine Jesus going about the cities and villages of Ireland today, in 2023, as he went about Galilee 2000 years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I see Jesus speaking to crowds wherever he finds them gathered together. He proclaims the good news of the kingdom in Muintir na Tire halls, in theatres, in conference centres, in hotel ballrooms, in dancehalls behind pubs, not just in churches.

Jesus sees all too many people in distress, in poverty, unable to pay all the bills and put food on the table. He sees those who are homeless, in ill health, consumed by addiction. He sees those in difficult or broken relationships. Through his words he gives them hope, and he encourages others to help them. He has compassion for them, because he sees them as ‘sheep without a shepherd’, unable by themselves to find a way out of their painful individual circumstances.

Jesus also sees, I am certain, the damage being done to the beautiful planet his loving Father has placed us on. He sees how we have disturbed the balance of gases in the atmosphere, causing rising temperatures, extreme weather, and rising sea levels. He sees how climate change and reckless use of land is reducing biodiversity, damaging the intricate web of relationships between species on which all life on earth depends, including our own. He hears the whole creation groaning together as if in childbirth, to use St Paul’s vivid imagery (Romans 8:22). We now understand that we human beings are the culprits, through our greedy over-exploitation of earth’s finite resources. But we find it very difficult to see how together we can change our ways to protect our planet. We are all like ‘sheep without a shepherd’. But Jesus, our Good Shepherd, surely has compassion for us all as we face these linked crises.

In his compassion, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ And he goes on to commission the apostles to be such labourers.

What does it mean to labour in the Lord’s harvest? It is surely to follow the model of Christ. As a church we believe that our mission is the mission of Christ, and we have identified 5 marks of that mission.

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Jesus asks us to pray for labourers to be sent out into the harvest. I suggest we should do more than that. I suggest each of us should ask ourselves whether he is calling me or you in particular to be a labourer, and what he is asking of us. A good starting place would be to focus on one or more of the 5 marks of mission. One or two is probably quite enough, because none of us has the strength to tackle them all.

Ask yourself, ‘How can I proclaim good news? How can I support others in the faith? How can I respond to human need? How can I work for justice? How can I care for creation?’

Tuesday, 13 June 2023


Reflection on St Barnabas for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 13th June 2023

Last Sunday was the feast day of St Barnabas, so today I take the opportunity to reflect on who he was, and why it is right to celebrate him as an early hero of our Christian faith.

He was a Jew from Cyprus, named Joseph by his parents, but the apostles in Jerusalem gave him the nickname Barnabas, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’. This tells us something about him, and how he was seen by the other early Christians. He was a committed and generous disciple from the very start of the church in Jerusalem. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that ‘He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet’ (Acts 4:37).

When St Paul came to Jerusalem after his conversion, the apostles were wary of him, because of his reputation as a persecutor. It was Barnabas who took Paul to meet the apostles, and calmed their fears. Some have speculated that Barnabas and Paul had been fellow students in the Jewish school of Gamaliel.

As we heard in today’s reading (Acts 11:19-30), the church in Jerusalem chose Barnabas to go on a mission to the great city of Antioch, now Antakya in Turkey, to investigate stories that had reached them about the great number of new disciples being made there by refugees from the persecution after St Stephen’s martyrdom. Indeed, we are told that it was in Antioch that disciples were first called Christians. 

Barnabas rejoiced at the vigorous faith he found in Antioch. We are told that he ‘was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’, and made many converts.  But he realised that he needed help in his mission in Antioch, so he went to Tarsus to find Paul, at that time still called Saul. Returning to Antioch they worked together as evangelists for a year, before going back to Jerusalem with funds raised for famine relief.

As Acts tells us, Barnabas travelled with Paul on his first missionary journey through Cyprus and cities in Asia Minor, now modern Turkey. When Paul began his 2nd missionary journey, he wanted Barnabas to come with him. Barnabas wanted to bring his kinsman John Mark with them, but Paul disagreed. So Barnabas travelled with his kinsman John Mark to his home island of Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him. Nothing is known about his later life, but an ancient tradition has it that he was martyred and buried in Cyprus, where he is venerated as the patron saint of the island.

Barnabas devoted his life to the early church, earning the trust of the leaders in Jerusalem. He travelled widely to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, with great success. With Paul, he played a key role founding and fostering Gentile churches, while maintaining good relations with the Jewish church in Jerusalem. 

So it is very right for us to celebrate Barnabas today as a saint and hero of our Christian faith. He truly deserves his nickname, ‘Son of Encouragement’!

And in St Brendan, the patron of our community, I see echoes of the qualities of St Barnabas, in his generous devotion to the church, his travelling, and his foundation of so many Christian communities.