The word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.
Then Jesus cried aloud: "Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as ligh into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me."
Today's texts offer a glimpse of the community of life between Jesus and his heavenly Father, and between the members of the church in Antioch among themselves and with God. "For I have not spoken on my own; no, the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to speak." Jesus' personality is formed by this obedient regard to the Father, this receptivity to the Father's will and wisdom, this total community of life with the Father.
In the church at Antioch, the community gathers for liturgy while fasting from food and drink. This would remind them that their strength comes from God, not from themselves. Fasting also induces a bond of compassion, a willingness to suffer together, a sense of being one with all the world's poor and oppressed. As such, they are thoroughly open to God for guidance and for strength. That was when the Holy Spirit inspired a prophecy: "Set apart Barnabas and Saul." The language reminds us of great prophets, like Jeremiah, called and set apart from his mother's womb, or the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, called from birth to be a light to the nations (Jer 1:5; Is 49:6).
Through Barnabas and Paul a new and wider community is to be established. The bond of Jesus' disciples is to spread across the Roman empire, during this first missionary journey to the island of Cyprus. The Holy Spirit did not give precise, detailed instructions, only a call to proceed forward on the journey. At first they proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. Yet, all the while God's main purpose was to attract more and more gentiles so that Christianity can bring the message of Moses, the prophets and Jesus to all the world.
Just as Jesus and the Father formed one intimate life and as the disciples were united among themselves through the Holy Spirit, so the church at Antioch was to reach outward toward the world to unite people as one family in Christ. At the heart of this growing and increasing family was the word of life from the heavenly Father. It is this outreach toward others in love that keeps us from over-controlling the word of God. As we share this word with others, it always seems to become something new, fresh, demanding, upsetting, as whenever new life is added to any family. Yet, this life is in continuity with the word of the Father to Jesus. This mystery of God's hidden message, spoken in Jesus and heard through the prophets within our midst, is the most deepest, truest voice we will ever hear. It comes from the Father, and sends us on a missionary journey of kindness and love to others.
Frequently in John's gospel, Jesus speaks of the God who sent him. The eternal God sent his Son among us out of love for the world. This sending was an act of generosity on God's part, involving a real giving for John speaks of God as giving his Son. In the first reading, the church of Antioch send two of their most gifted members to parts of the Roman Empire where Christ had not yet been preached.
The sending of Barnabas and Paul on mission involved a real giving on the part of the Antioch Christians, who were sacrificing two of their most valuable assets for the sake of others. Over the centuries the Irish church has sent and given some of its most gifted members to proclaim the gospel far from home. That is the nature of our Church and the nature of our call as Christians. We give away what is most precious to us so that others can benefit from our resources. Each local church, each parish, is called not just to serve itself, but to serve other local churches whether next door or far away. We are to be generous with each other as God has been with us.