A. Friday, June 4
1 Samuel 23: Three episodes make up the narrative of this chapter: first, David at Keilah (verses 1-13); second, Jonathan and David together (verses 14-18); and third, Saul’s further pursuit (verses 19-28).
The complex episode at Keilah, in which David delivers the city from the enemies of Israel, may be contrasted with the story of Nob, in which there was no one to deliver the city from the King of Israel.
Faced with reports of the Philistine siege of Keilah, David is uncertain of his course: Does he dare take his modest guerilla band to fight the besiegers, even as Saul pursues him with a large army? David is no coward, but He also does not want to tempt the Lord by presumption.
Well, then, there is nothing for it but to consult the Lord, and recent events have made this recourse a bit easier. When Abiathar fled from Nob, he took with him the oracular ephod used by the priests to discern God’s will (verse 6). David, who appeals to this source several times in the present chapter, seeks guidance about what to do about Keilah. He consults the oracle once for himself, and then again to reassure his men. The answer, both times, is “Go for it!” He does, and a might victory ensues (verses 1-5).
Saul, who should have been the one to help Keilah, learns that David is now in the city, behind its walls. Aha, says he to himself, now we’re got him. Forthwith, the king proceeds to march toward Keilah.
David now confronts a new dilemma: Should he stay and take a stand in Keilah, to face Saul’s inevitable siege of the city, or does he flee before Saul arrives? There is a more direct way of posing the question: Will the citizens of Keilah protect David from Saul as he protected them from the Philistines?
On the face it, there is every reason to believe that the people in Keilah will be unwilling to put themselves at risk. They know what Saul just did to Nob, when he believed that city had aided David. David, again guided by oracular counsel, leads his men out of Keilah. It is a close call, nonetheless, and David is afraid (verses 14-15).
Jonathan, learning David’s whereabouts, leaves Saul’s force and comes to visit his friend in the Judean Desert (verses 16-18). On this, their final meeting, they renew their fraternal covenant.
One surmises that if Jonathan can ascertain the whereabouts of David, so can Saul, and he does. Just as he is about to move on David, however, a messenger arrives to report that the army is needed elsewhere, to counter another Philistine attack. David experiences, yet again, a providential mercy.
Before Jonathan departs from his friend, he professes certainty that David will inherit the throne. He adds that Saul, too, knows this. Thus, the reader is given an update on the state of Saul’s mind: He is aware of the hopelessness of his cause; he is conscious of resisting the inevitable.
This resistance, nonetheless, is still pretty strong. Relying on further reports of David’s whereabouts in the southern desert, Saul again advances and closes in on him. Just as the situation seems critical for David, word reaches Saul that he must break off the pursuit and journey back to deal with those pesky Philistines (verses 19-28). Divine Providence strikes again.
Saturday, June 5
1 Samuel 24: When Saul’s jealousy and dangerous behavior drove David from the royal court, he was obliged to wander, much like an outlaw, in the desert regions in the south of Judah. Harassed and pursued by the army of the increasingly deranged king, David was constantly on the move, he and his small band of friends, hiding here and there as chance provided, often hungry and always exposed to danger. Saul had put a price on David’s head, moreover, so there was the added peril of betrayal; the king’s spies might be anywhere.
David’s plight was dire indeed: “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” “being destitute, afflicted, tormented,” while wandering “in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (2 Corinthians 11:27; Hebrews 11:37-38).
The present reading tells the story of David’s concealment in another cave, this one at Engeddi, just west of the Dead Sea, where Saul had led a military detachment to apprehend the young fugitive. The circumstances of this encounter draw attention to two features of the story, both of them typical of this whole period of David’s desert wandering:
First, there is the quiet, subtle working of Divine Providence, whereby the Lord protects David from capture and delivers his enemy into his power. This theme will be repeated in the next two chapters, the story of David and Nabal, and a second encounter with Saul.
Second, David shows mercy to Saul, whom he yet regards as Israel’s rightful king. This trait of mercy will also be manifest (and put to the test) in the two chapters that follow.
Throughout this period of great hardship and relentless persecution David learned by experience that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God has “called” David to become the next and better king, and David must bide God’s time and pleasure to reveal that call.
Sunday, June 6
Acts 7:17-26: The stories we have been reading in the Book of Acts present something of a scandal or stumbling block to many of our contemporaries, people who presume that this universe is self-contained and self-explanatory. Although we think of this presumption as a modern objection to the Gospel, truly it is not. The claims of the Gospel—and in particular its message of the sovereignty of God—were just as objectionable in the first century as they are in the twenty-first.
The Gospel proclamation of the sovereignty of God was an inspiration to ridicule at the time of the Apostles, and their demonstration of that sovereignty through miracles and signs was an affront to their contemporaries dearly held persuasion that this universe is self-contained and self-explanatory. Those in the Sanhedrin spoke for opponents of the Gospel even today, whey they declared, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16).
What are the presuppositions of those who believe that the universe is self-contained and self-explanatory? Why is the Gospel such an affront to those persuaded that the universe is a closed entity? We may summarize their objections, I believe, in what are known as the three laws of thermodynamics:
The first law of thermodynamics affirms the conservation of energy. This law presumes a closed universe in which energy can be neither created nor destroyed. According to this law, energy is a stored quantity, substantially identical to the matter of the universe itself.
But do we find in the Acts of the Apostles? We find the evidence of an entirely new source of energy, distinct from any force or matter in the universe itself. We read of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as an entirely new thermodynamic font.
For example, There is the character of Stephan, of whom we are told, “Stephen, full of grace and power [dynamis], did great wonders and signs among the people.” In Stephan we witness activity dependent on no energy source inherent in this world.
Imagine the frustration of those who encountered Stephen! It is no wonder the Bible says, “they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed their teeth at him” (7:54).
Modern men, like ancient men, have no objections to religion as such—–religion as responding to a human need, a need explainable within the universe itself. A Stephen, however, is simply intolerable. Stephen had no interest in satisfying what men thought to be their religious needs. Stephen bore witness to the sovereignty of God.
The second law of the
rmodynamics affirms, "in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state." This is usually called the law of entropy, the law of disorder and corruption.
But what do we find in the proclamation of the Gospel? The very first words of the Gospel affirm the most radical and complete reversal of the law of entropy—the resurrection of the dead!
And how does the world respond to this affirmation? Let us look at the response of the most liberal, freethinking, and open-minded of men: those gathered on the Acropolis at Athens. It is of these that the Bible says, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear something new” (17:21).
But when Paul announces something truly and completely new—the resurrection of the dead—what is their response? Luke tells us: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (17:32).
The “something new” of the Athenians did not include the sovereignty of God, especially over the forces inherent in the universe they thought to be closed.
The third law of thermodynamics affirms that as the temperature approaches absolute zero, all processes cease and the entropy of the system approaches a minimum value. That is to say, it does not reach absolute zero, because this would mean absolute destruction; the final entropy of a system is a defined constant.
But what do the Apostles proclaim? “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth. ? And the heavens are the work of Your hands. ? They will perish, but You remain;? And they will all grow old like a garment;? Like a cloak You will fold them up,? And they will be changed.”
According to the Gospel, these heavens, which have remained the same for millions of years, will be rolled up like a scroll, and this solid earth will cease to be. Even the laws of physics will bow to the sovereignty of the God who made them.
The Gospel preached by the Apostles is a particular proclamation of the sovereignty of God—what He has done in this world and what He soon will do. God has visited this world with the transcendent energies of His Holy Spirit and has placed in the composition of human existence and human experience a new source of life and power. He has done this by raising His Son from the dead and thereby placing immortality into human biochemistry.
Monday, June 7
John 19:25-42: The description of the Lord's death in the Gospel of John shows every sign of conveying the word of an eyewitness. Indeed, the Sacred Text itself calls attention to the first-hand reliability of this testimony: "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe" (John 19:35). Two details in John's testimony seem worthy of special examination.
First, in its description of the Lord's death, John's very suggestive wording is unique among the Four Evangelists: paredoken to pnevma(verse 30). Generally, alas, that uniqueness is obscured in the standard English translations. They usually run something like this: "And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit" (NKJV). I confess that I have not found an English translation that substantially differs from this.
Leaving aside the tender detail about the bowing of the Lord's head in death, nonetheless, such a translation is seriously inadequate. Paredoken to pnevma, wrote John. To translate this as "he gave up His spirit" deprives the sentence of more than half of its meaning. Taken literally (which is surely the proper way to take him), John affirms that He "handed over the Spirit."
That is to say, the very breath, pnevma, with which the Lord expired on the Cross becomes for John the symbol and transmission of the Holy Spirit that the Lord confers on His Church gathered beneath. Support for this interpretation is found in the risen Lord's action and words to the apostles in the upper room in John 20:22, "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit (labete pnevma hagion).'"
Consequently, John's description of the death of Jesus—"He handed over the Spirit"—portrays the Holy Spirit as being transmitted from the body of the Lord hanging in sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. It is John's way of affirming that the mission of the Holy Spirit is intimately and inseparably connected with the event the Cross.
This interpretation, besides being faithful to the verb's literal sense, is consonant with John's theology as a whole. It was the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord-what John calls His glorification-that permitted the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the Church. John told us earlier that "the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (7:39).
Second, John records another detail of the scene not mentioned by the other Evangelists: "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (19:34 NKJV).
Taken together, then, John records three things as issuing forth from the immolated body of Jesus: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These have to do with the gathering of the Church at the foot of the Cross, because this is the place where the Lord's identity is known: "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM" (8:28 my translation).
These components appear also in the covering letter for John's Gospel as the "three witnesses" of the Christian mystery: "And there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one" (1 John 5:8 my translation).
Speaking of the gathering of the Church, the Lord had declared, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." John went on to comment, "He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die" (12:32-33 ESV). It is the gathered Church, then, that receives the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood at the foot of the Cross, thereby knowing the Son of Man's identity as "I AM". This is the revelation given in the testimony.
This threefold "witness" to Jesus has particular reference to the Sacraments of Initiation, those mystic rites by which believers are gathered into the Church: the water of Baptism, the Holy Spirit conferred in the seal of Chrismation, and the Blood consumed in the Holy Communion. These three things are theologically inseparable; that is to say, "these three are one."
In this threefold initiation into the mystery of the Cross believers are "once enlightened" in Baptism, become "partakers of the Holy Spirit" in Chrismation, and "taste the heavenly gift" in the Eucharist (Hebrews 6:4).
This threefold benediction is inseparable from its source, which is the Son of Man's body hanging in sacrifice. Each component of this grace derives from that same font.
Tuesday, June 8
An Outline of the Gospel according to St. Mark
Introduction (1:1-13): Jesus is introduced to the reader as God’s Son, especially in verses 1 & 11.
Part I. The mystery of Jesus as Messiah is progressively revealed to the others in the story, first the demons and then the disciples. In this section there are three parts, each beginning with a summary, containing a pericope about the disciples, and ending with some mention of unbelief, called blindness or hardness of heart. This first half of the Gospel of Mark closes with Peter’s Confession of Jesus as Messiah, which leads immediately into the second half of the Gospel.
Jesus with the crowd and the Jewish Leaders (1:14— 3:6)
1. Summary of the Gospel (1:14-15)
2. The Call of the First Disciples (1:16-20)
3. The Teaching of Jesus With Power and Miracles (1:21-45)
4. The First Disputes With the Enemies (2:1—3:5)
a. Forgiveness of the Paralytic (2:1-12)
b. The Tax Collectors (2:13-17)
c. The Question of Fasting (2:18-22)
d. Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28)
e. The Man With the Withered hand (3:1-5)
B. The Unbelief of the Pharisees (3:6)
Jesus and the Disciples (3:7—6:6a)
1. Summary of Healings and Exorcisms (3:7-12)
2. The Choice of the Twelve (3:13-19)
3. Jesus Withdraws With His Disciples (3:20-35)
4. Jesus Teaches His Disciples
a. By Four Parables (4:1-34)
b. By Four Miracles (4:35—5:43)
5. The Unbelief of Jesus’ Compatriots (6:1-6a)
C. The Messiah is Revealed to His Disciples (6:6b—8:26)
1. Summary of Healings (6:6b)
2. The Mission of the Twelve (6:7-13)
3. Jesus and John the Baptist (6:14-29)
4. The Bread Cycles in Parallel
a. The First Cycle (6:30—7:37)
The Multiplication of Loaves
Boat Trip (6:45-56)
Dispute With Pharisees (7:1-13)
Discourse on Bread (7:14-30)
Healing of Speech and Hearing
b. The Second Cycle (8:1-30)
Multiplication of Loaves (8:1-9a)
Boat Trip (8:9b-10)
Dispute With Pharisees (8:11-13)
Discourse on Bread (8:14-21)
Healing of Sight (8:22-26)
The End of Part I: Jesus Confessed as Messiah (8:27-30)
Part II. The Sufferings of the Son of Man, and the Resurrection of the Lord
A. Three Prophecies of the Passion and Resurrection (8:27—10:52)
The important word in this section is “way” (hodos), referring to the Way of the Cross. This word appears in 8:27; 9:33-34; 10:17,32,46,52. It indicates the theme. This section finishes with the second enlightenment of a blind man, who then “follows” Jesus on the “way.”
1. The First Prophecy
a. Passion and Resurrection Foretold (8:31)
b. Disciples Fail to Understand the Cross (8:32-33)
c. Jesus Instructs About the Cross (8:34—9:1)
d. Transfiguration and Elijah (9:2-13)
e. Healing of the Epileptic Child (9:14-29)
2. The Second Prophecy
a. Passion and Resurrection Foretold (9:30-31)
b. Disciples Fail to Understand the Cross (9:32-34)
c. Jesus Instructs About the Cross (9:35-57)
d. Marriage, Children, Economy (10:1-31)
3. The Third Prophecy
a. Passion and Resurrection Foretold (10:33-34)
b. Disciples Fail to Understand the Cross
c. Jesus Instructs About the Cross (10:38-45)
B. d. Healing of Sight (8:10:46-52) (cf. 8:22-26)
The Revelation in Jerusalem (11:1—12:37)
1. The Messianic Entry (11:1-11)
2. The Fig Tree and the Temple (11:12-25)
3. The Final Disputes With the Enemies (11:27-33)
a. The Priests and Others:
The Authority of Jesus (11:13—12:12)
b. The Herodians and Pharisees:
Tribute to Caesar (12:13-17)
c. The Sadducees: The Resurrection (12:18-27)
d. The Scribes:
The First Commandment (12:28-34)
e. A Question About David (12:35-37)
f. Jesus Denounces the Enemies (12:38-40)
g. The Widow’s Mite:
Link With the Next Discourse (12:41-44)
The Eschatological Discourse (13:1-37)
D. The Death of the Son of Man (14:1—16:8)
1. The Plot, Anointing, and Betrayal (14:1-11)
2. The Last Supper (14:12-25)
3. The Agony in the Garden (14:26-52)
4. The Trial by the Sanhedrin (14:53-65)
5. The Denials of Peter (14:66-72)
6. The Trial by Pilate (15:1-15)
7. The Way of the Cross and the Death of Jesus (15:16-41)
8. The Burial of Jesus (15:42-47
E. The Resurrection of the Lord (16:1-20
1. The Empty Tomb (16:1-8)
2. The Post Resurrection Appearances (16:9-20)
Wednesday, June 9
Acts 8:5-13: Chapter 8 will treat of the ministry of Philip, Steven’s companion (6:5), chiefly concentrating on his dealings with two types of people who were regarded as “outsiders” with respect to Israel: Samaritans and eunuchs. Through Philip’s preaching, both of these are now brought into the Church, illustrating a standard Lukan theme of the raising up of the downtrodden and the dispossessed.
Philip’s preaching in Samaria, like that of Stephen in Jerusalem, is accompanied by miracles, especially the expulsion of demons (verses 6-7). The most notable of his converts, Simon Magus, was also the most troublesome. Justin Martyr, himself a Samaritan, tells us that Simon came from the hamlet of Gitta in Samaria (First Apology 1.26,56; Dialogue with Trypho 120.6). In spite of having his own enthusiastic following, Simon, persuaded by the preaching and especially the miracles of Philip, was baptized.
The next scene, however, indicates that his conversion was still something short of complete. Simon’s endeavor to purchase spiritual authority by means of money has given us the word “simony.”
Psalm 72 (Greek and Latin 71: Two narrative sections of Holy Scripture readily come to mind in connection with the themes of Psalm 72. The first text is 2 Samuel 7, containing Nathan’s great prophecy about the royal house of David, which now became the beneficiary of a special covenant to guarantee that his descendants would reign forever over his kingdom. A number of lines of our psalm, especially those pertaining to the permanence and extension of David’s royal house, reflect that historical text.
The second pertinent passage is 1 Kings 3, which describes Solomon’s prayer for the “wise heart” that would enable him to govern God’s people justly. Repeatedly throughout this psalm mention is made of the justice and wisdom that would characterize God’s true anointed one.
Both aspects of Psalm 72, as well as the two narrative texts that it reflects, proved to be more than slightly problematic in Israel’s subsequent history. For example, Solomon’s vaunted wisdom as a ruler, that for which he had prayed at Gibeah, didn’t last even to the end of his own lifetime, and it was displayed among his posterity with (not to put too fine a point on it) a rather indifferent frequency. Similarly, what is to be said about the permanence of the reign of David’s household over God’s people? More than half of that kingdom broke away shortly after the death of David’s first successor; nor was any Davidic king ever again to reign on his throne after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. What, then, could be said for either the prophecy of Nathan or the prayer of Solomon? How were the promises in this psalm to be understood?
As Christians, of course, we believe that the inner substance of all these prefigurings finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Lord, the goal of biblical history and the defining object of all biblical prophecy.
The Archangel Gabriel announced the fulfillment of these ancient prophecies when he told the Mother of the Messiah that “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33). Yet other angels announced to the shepherds that “there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ [Messiah] the Lord” (2:11). He was to be at once David’s offspring and His Lord (cf. Mark 12:35–37).
As for Solomon, was he the wise king? Well, in measure, to be sure, but now behold, a greater than Solomon is here. If Solomon?
??s wish was to rule God’s people wisely and with righteousness (a word that comes repeatedly in our psalm), what shall we say of the One whom the New Testament calls our wisdom and our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:24, 30)?
Thursday, June 10
Psalm 74: Asaph the Seer, as he contemplates the works of Creation, perceives both conflict and covenant. In the poem that he devotes to this double consideration (Psalm 74 in Hebrew, 73 in Greek and Latin), he moves back and forth between these two themes, but my prose analysis of the poem is better served, I believe, by taking them in sequence. I propose to start where Asaph starts: with conflict.
The current state of Creation, Asaph perceives, is a constant fight against chaos. He begins his meditation, then, by wondering out loud whether God has cast off—in anger and forever—the sheep of His pasture. The poet returns to this theme repeatedly, distressed that those who hate God are glorified. He is bewildered that the sanctuary is destroyed, and he is scandalized that blasphemy walks the earth unchecked. Chaos prevails without reprieve, with neither sign nor prophet to contradict it. What can the just man do but lament and pray for deliverance?
As he laments, however, Asaph reflects that the very act of Creation was a deed of deliverance. Making things from nothing, the Lord did battle. Nothingness was not neutral. Existence is not natural to nothingness. God, therefore, conquered a force perverse to His purpose. Centuries before parting the Red Sea, He divided more ancient waters, cleaving the fountains and the flood, cracking open the multiple heads of the sea monster in order to feed, with their meat, the peoples of Ethiopia. Creation, that is to say, was the initial Exodus, a deliverance from bondage, a redemption from the deep dungeon of non-being. The Lord smote that more ancient Pharaoh and fed him to His hungry creatures.
Creation, then, was a both moral and metaphysical act. The Lord imposed a moral order in the very act of conferring a metaphysical form. When the Lord took hold on the tohu wabohu and invoked His light over the darkness of the abyss, He wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. He did this in the sense that in the very heart of Creation, its arche or principle, there is a deed of redemption, the world's deliverance from the oppression of primeval chaos.
Consequently, it is to that very ancient deliverance that Asaph appeals when He prays God to rise once more in vindication of His cause against the wicked and the daily blasphemer.
In making this prayer, the poet explicitly invokes a covenant inherent in the act of Creation. Respice in testamentum Tuum, he pleads, "Look upon Thy covenant." He means the covenant which man, when he entered the world on Creation's sixth day, found already in place. This covenant's preamble had been composed on the second day, when the Lord, with a firmament, divided the waters. The first article of the covenant was composed on the third day when the dry land appeared and began to grow food for those who were to live upon it.
This covenant of Creation, necessary for all the subsequent covenants of salvation history, was formulated for the sake of man. It gave initial shape to the congregation that God possessed from of old, the rod of the inheritance that He redeemed, even as He dried up the rivers of Ethan and destroyed the demon of the deep. By reason of this covenant, Asaph reflects, God is our king before the ages.
On the fourth day, the Lord inscribed into His covenant the possibility of history, by placing a chronometer into the composition of the universe: "Thine is the day, and Thine is the night. Thou hast crafted—Tu fabricatus es—the dawn and the sun." This chronological shape of existence, too, was intended for the sake of man, the only creature able to reflect on the measure and meaning of time.
In the covenant of Creation, then, God formed both space and time, consecrating the first by His sanctuary and the second by the liturgical calendar.
Of all the evils lamented by Asaph, therefore, the worst are the desecrations of sacred space and sacred time. God's enemies destroyed the first with ax and fire, the second by the suppression (quiescere faciamus) of feast days. Man becomes the Lord's enemy in the space dedicated for worship (inimicus in Sancto) and glorifies himself in the sacred time set aside to glorify God (in medio solemnitatis Tuae). Both space and time are thus defiled. Man, by this desecration of his life, returns Creation to the primeval chaos. Living outside the covenant inherent in structure of the world, he endeavors to undo what God has done.
Friday, June 11
Saint Barnabas: Although the history of icons may give us an idea of what some early saints looked like (the very primitive sketch of Peter and Paul in the excavation under the Vatican, for example), it is generally hard to gain knowledge of this sort from the New Testament. It is true that, unless the expression “of short stature” in Luke 19:3 refers to Jesus (which is grammatically possible), we know that Zacchaeus the tax collector was not tall; and we are probably justified in suspecting that Mary of Bethany was blest with ample tresses (cf. John 11:2; 12:3). On the whole, however, the New Testament is not a copious source for such information.
There is a major exception in the case of Barnabas. We really do have a good idea of what Barnabas looked like, because some ancient devotees of Zeus mistook him for the object of their devotion.
It happened in the city of Lystra, where Paul had just healed a life-long cripple. In immediate response to this marvel, the citizens of the city “raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’” After that, matters got very much out of hand. In the enthusiasm of the moment, “the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.” Because of the language barrier, which apparently required them to speak through an interpreter, it took several minutes for the two apostles to put a stop to the business, but they eventually did so, proceeding then to preach one of the shortest sermons in history (three verses). Even then, says the text, “with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them” (Acts 14:8–18).
Now the curious point here is that the crowd, persuaded that the gods had just arrived in town, took Barnabas for Zeus. It was somewhat natural, given their premise, that they thought Paul to be Hermes, the messenger god, “because he was the chief speaker.” Indeed, it was Paul who had healed the lame man with a simple command. But why Barnabas as Zeus? It must have had something to do with his appearance. These folks would never have taken an average-looking guy to be Zeus.
Now it happens that we know exactly what sort of fellow those people thought Zeus, should he ever come to visit his temple, would look like, because Zeus is portrayed in dozens of extant old art works and described in scores of ancient texts. This “father of gods and men” was massive in height and powerfully muscular in bulk. His great brow extended broad and serene over clear, far-seeing eyes, and a full majestic beard lay upon his barrel chest. Brother to Poseidon, god of the sea,
Zeus, when he condescended to speak, spoke with the deep rumblings of oceanic authority. Now this . . . this is what the citizens of Lystra saw in Barnabas! No wonder they were impressed.
In fact, they never quite lost their awe in the presence of Barnabas. A few days later, when some Jews from Iconium arrived and stirred up the crowd against the two apostles, it was Paul that they stoned, nearly to death. Nobody dared throw a stone at Barnabas! (14:19–20)
The impressive appearance of Barnabas was matched by his generosity and nobility of soul. He made one of the first large financial donations to the Christian Church, and it was the trusted Barnabas who could introduce the recently converted Saul of Tarsus to the frightened Jerusalem church, oversee the new ministry at Antioch, lead the first mission to Cyprus and Pisidia, and later restore young John Mark to the mission field (4:36–37; 11:22–25; 13:2–14; 15:36–39). Reassured even to be in the presence of this huge, competent, and gentle human being, all Christians knew Barnabas as the “Son of Consolation.”