“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles…” Acts 9:26-27b
When I was in third grade, my family moved to a new neighborhood and I attended a new school. I didn’t have the advantage of starting alongside other new kids at the beginning of the school year. Everyone else already had friends by the time I got there. I was a skinny, shy girl who knew no one.
This could have been a recipe for loneliness, but the school administration knew a better way than to just send a little girl to walk alone into a class full of kids who would sit there staring at her, sizing her up. A friendly girl in the class was sent to come get me at the office and walk with me. We entered the room together, and it made all the difference for me. Everyone liked and knew her, and somehow the visual connection between the two of us made me acceptable in the eyes of the other 9-year-olds.
Being friendly to someone new or alone in our midst can make a huge difference. I sit behind an older woman most Sundays in church, and we chat every week. We know each other’s name and the name of one another’s husband. Her husband works out of town and she often comes alone, but she doesn’t feel church is a lonely, friendless place.
In today’s reading, Saul had been reborn. He met the resurrected Jesus on the road one day, and heard His call. He spent a few days in blindness, was healed by God, and spent the next three years learning the ways of the Lord. He then tried to join the apostles but was quickly rejected because they feared him. (And isn’t that the reason new things are often rejected? We often fear, or at least stand afar off from, the unknown. Of course, in this case Saul had a terrifying reputation—there was NO WAY God could change him!)
But Barnabas had been watching Saul, had seen his testimony that refuted his reputation, and brought him into the inner circle. Barnabas entered the gathering with Saul beside him. The apostles must have looked back and forth between these two men. What was going on? Had Saul arrested Barnabas and forced him to bring him to the apostles? Had Barnabas lost his mind?
Barnabas spoke up, giving Saul’s testimony of repentance and bold preaching in the name of Jesus. The apostles, if for no other reason than that they knew Barnabas could be trusted, allowed Saul to join them, and he began to come and go freely among them.
Who can we befriend today? Never mind about her reputation—God will take care of that. Let’s reach out and “Receive (her) in the Lord with all gladness” (Philippians 2:29).
“Father, help us to be an accepting, inviting friend to someone in need of friendship. Lead us to that person today. Amen.”