Barnabas took charge

I was once with a group of students from different parts of the continent: most from the south but a few from the north. An issue arose, I forget what it was, and all those from the south took a united stand on it.

But then one of them, from Sudan, spoke up disagreeing with his companions and proposing a contrary way of proceeding. What has stayed with me is this Sudanese who didn’t “go along with” the majority.

When Paul had his Damascus experience it changed his life. But the Christians in Jerusalem were suspicious. “They could not believe he was really a disciple,” (Acts 9:26). Then, we are told, “Barnabas took charge of him” and explained how the Lord had appeared to Paul. Barnabas turned the situation around by standing up for what he believed was the truth of the situation.

This is not easy to do. I do not think I am alone in recalling how often the pressure of numbers has intimidated me and I have kept quiet even though I totally disagreed with what was being said. It is easier that way. To have spoken up might have brought ridicule, ostracism, embarrassment or insecurity. Better to stick with the crowd!

But “the crowd” can lead me into worse trouble. I met a young woman recently serving a sentence for carrying drugs from one country to another. “People do it to help their families.” Well, maybe they do, but now your family has lost you for the duration of your sentence and it may be hard to restart when you are free again. Why was it so difficult to break with “people do it” in the first place?

Well, it is difficult. And we need strength to build the courage to do what is right even if “everyone” else is doing something different. Jesus had an unusual image for us to understand this. He spoke of himself as the vine or fruit tree. He told his friends, “You are the branches.” But when branches are cut from a fruit tree they no longer bear fruit. If we want the courage to stand for what we believe we have to find it somewhere. And Jesus offers it to us every day.

It is all a test of our seriousness. Time and again we attest our comfort with ourselves. “I’m OK.” We tell ourselves we are caring, loving, hard-working people. Well, maybe we are. But love shows itself in what we actually do. And if, when challenges come, we hide in the crowd and do nothing it is hardly love. “Our love is not to be just words and mere talk, but something real and active.” (1 John 3:18).

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