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Faith of A Mustard Seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord.  News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a large company was added to the Lord.” (Acts 11:19-24).

The third ‘pistis’ Faith event in Acts is a single occurrence in spite of the RSV (the NJB New Jerusalem Bible, and the NAB New American Bible) using ‘faithful’ to translate a whole other word used for ‘remaining true’ (KJV); ‘hold fast’ (REB Revised English Bible); ‘hold with heartfelt purpose’ (Moffatt Translation) to the Lord.  This single use of pistis is, again, an adjective used to describe the character of a man.  The Apostles now ‘see faith’ in Barnabas.

Acts is clear about the identity of “Joseph, who was surnamed Barnabas by the Apostles.”  A Levite (from the oldest and original tribe line of Hebrew priests) and a native of Cyprus.  He was a landowner— a field of which he sold bringing the proceeds to lay at the feet of the Apostles.  When Saul fled Damascus in the wake of conversion and the plot against his life, he arrived in Jerusalem to a very hostile climate among the disciples of which he now identified.  It is Barnabas who stands for Saul in the presence of the Disciples in Jerusalem to plead Saul’s case of conversion.

Now identified by Acts as ‘a church’, the company of Apostles and disciples have grown to dynamic proportions.  With the scattering of those who fled the persecutions resulting from Stephen’s death, the seeds of this ‘new faith’ are sown in Antioch.  The Jerusalem Church sent Barnabas to Antioch and he is credited as the founder of The Antioch Church.  Several church fathers and church historians assign authorship of the Book of Hebrews to Barnabas.  Despite unresolved issues concerning The Epistle of Barnabas, it received canonical standing even though it did not make ‘The Canon’.

Faith is dynamic!  It is something that can be seen… in you.  The expressions of Faith reflective of a life well lived is often that single thing that can enable ‘something new’ to occur in life around you.  I once was lost… but now I’m found.  I once was blind, but now I see.  When a person who walks deeply rooted and grounded in faith enters your atmosphere… you will know!

Standing deep within the Old Testament faith, Barnabas is the model for a (hu)man born in ‘diaspora’ (those taken from their homes and placed in some other strange and foreign land); yet, born into a kinship that, though separated from the land of origin, refused to be separated from faith, culture, and traditions.  His faith was so strong that he moved IN and out of the Jerusalem community as though he was born there.  His faith was so strong that he moved in and OUT of the Hellenists community, though he WAS born there!  With his ‘heritage’ and ‘priestly inheritance’ intact, born in diaspora he could have easily been referenced as Hellenistic, as Saul was.  But perhaps it is this single entity that ultimately separated Joseph—Barnabas from Saul-Paul as Paul set out on his mission to the Hellenistic world.

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