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 St.  Barnabas 5. Extended Family - Divine Strategy

      Last week we raised the question of what St. Barnabas’ extended family background per the African tradition – his sister Mary, her husband St. Aristobulus, their son St. John Mark, and Aristobulus’ relative Strapola being St. Peter’s wife; all living together in Jerusalem – might mean for Barnabas’ future mission, and for all the Church.

      Now let’s add young Saul, friend of Barnabas, and later the converted St. Paul, to the mix. Perhaps he was a frequent visitor to their house as a youth, and certainly later when Paul was in Jerusalem.

      In Thomas C. Oden’s The African Memory of Mark, Dr. Oden considers the Lord’s strategy here of bringing these diverse persons together. “Consider the international implications of this group of associates: One [Barnabas] was from Cyprus (a Greek island), one from Tarsus [Paul] (in Roman Asia) and one from Cyrene [Mark] (in Africa). Already all continents of the known world are involved. The key salvation event occurred in Jerusalem. The proclamation of this event to the rest of humankind was taken up by a representative group of international broadcasters: Barnabas, Paul and Mark. None were born in Jerusalem.” [1]

      But let’s not forget the women and their mostly unwritten ministry, nor Aristobulus who later was in Rome (Ro. 16:10) and then in Britain as its first bishop. [2]

      Then especially we can’t omit St. Peter, the Holy Land (not Diaspora) Jew who, out of all the first believers in Christ, was the one the Holy Spirit called first to preach to the Gentiles when he was sent to Cornelius (Ac 10:1-48, c. 34 AD; cf., Ac 15:7-9).

      Yet how incredibly difficult for Jewish believers to imagine breaking the ceremonial law by going into a Gentile home, eating with them, preaching to them, baptizing them! Unthinkable!

      So now there is Peter, purportedly living in this extended family of Hellenist Jews in Jerusalem. They would be the next closest thing to a Gentile for a Galilean like Peter. If someone like Peter can learn to approach the Gentiles through the good influence of this widely diverse Diaspora family, then all of them will.

      The Holy Spirit guides Peter step by step (Ac 10, 11; c. 34 AD). First a vision of unclean animals. Then the voice from heaven, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Then the perfect timing of the messengers from Caesarea. Then the Spirit tells him to go and to make no distinction about them being Gentiles. Then Peter hears of the revelation given to Cornelius, which even told Peter what to preach. And in his preaching, the Holy Spirit dramatically falls upon Cornelius and all gathered. Wow! The Holy Spirit brings to Peter’s mind Jesus’ word that the Apostles would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And so finally, humble Peter just uses his fisherman’s common sense: “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” The ministry to the Gentiles had formally begun (Ac 15:7-9).

      I wonder who were the six believers who came with Peter to Cornelius’ house? Might they include Barnabas, Aristobulus, or Mark? We can imagine the Holy Spirit would greatly use this extended family of combined Diaspora and Holy Land Jews in guiding the early Church and their mission to the ends of the world. What divine strategy!

      God, indeed, knows all the details of each of our lives. He knows how they can all fit together. He intends to work every detail for great good if we but put our trust Him (Ro 8:28).

Dibby Allan Green
Reference
[1] Oden, Thomas C., The African Memory of Mark, Reassessing Early Church Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), p. 85.
[2] “Aristobulus of Britannia,” in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristobulus_of_Britannia, accessed 6/4/21.

Originally published in the print edition of the Mojave Desert News  dated June 3, 2021, modified.

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church is located in California City, CA. Visit our website at ollcalcity.org.

Dibby Allan Green has a BA in Religious Studies (Westmont College, 1978) and MA in Theology (Augustine Institute, 2019), is a lay Catholic hermit, and a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.