We may tend to sentimentalize the early Church. Those first followers of Jesus lived so close to his time. Some even knew Jesus before his death and during the time of his resurrection appearances. Daily, it may seem to us, they experienced the refreshment and invigoration of the Holy Spirit in their lives and their life together; and the Church rapidly spread throughout the Mediterranean region. If only we had lived then, what faith, hope, and love would have seeded, sprouted, and blossomed in our lives to the glory of God and the good of the world around us!
Then we read actual accounts of people, relationships, and communities in the early Church – such as today’s passage – and we squarely face reality. Yes, they lived in interesting times, at the end of Jesus’ sojourn on earth and the inauguration of God’s great movement of resurrection life which is the Church, the Body of Christ. They grew in grace and goodness in wondrous ways. Lamentably, they also continued to carry in themselves, as do we, elements of all-too-human weakness, self-centeredness, and downright sinfulness. Even when trying earnestly to follow Jesus, they sometimes fluttered, faltered, and fell to ground.
We encounter a painful instance of such failure in today’s reading. Close companions in mission and ministry, Paul and Barnabas decided to revisit a number of Christian communities to foster their spiritual well-being. Yet Paul and Barnabas disagreed about whether to take John Mark with them. The intensity of the conflict led them to separate and embark, each with different companions, on distinct ministry efforts. How grievous this must have been for them and for the Holy Spirit!
Yet God continued to work his good purposes despite and through their conflict and failure. Luke, author of Acts, observed that Paul’s visits to churches led to increased strength in their faith and growth in their numbers. He also met Timothy, a young Christian, and recruited Timothy to accompany and assist him in mission and ministry. In God’s grace, Timothy became one of Paul’s dearest friends and co-laborers and a leader in the early Church. Eventually, also in God’s grace, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark became reconciled to each other in Jesus.
God’s business is to work his good purposes despite and through our failure and sinfulness. In everything, God can bring good out of who we are and what the world tosses up. Look to Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark for proof! Let us then put all our hope and trust in God, and submit ourselves to God’s redemptive love and direction, that we may decrease in sin and grow in grace and goodness.