First Reading: Acts 9:26-31; Psalm: 22. R. v. 26a; Second Reading: 1Jn 3:1b-24; Gospel: Jn 15:1-8 




Arguably, the two most successful and decorated football players of all time are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. These star players are the two biggest Ballon d ‘Or winners for over a decade. However, the point of this story is not about their rivalry but about how one of them, Cristiano Ronaldo rose to prominence through the selflessness of his friend Albert Fantrau.

In 2014, moments after Real Madrid Football Club won the UEFA Champions League trophy in Lisbon; Cristiano Ronaldo abandoned the team’s celebration and ran to a section of the stand to pull out a man whom he hugged affectionately. That man was Albert Fantrau. Hear what Cristiano Ronaldo has to say about him: “I have to thank my old friend Albert Fantrau for my success. We played together for the same team in the U-18 championship. When a scout came to see us, he said that ‘Whoever scores more goals will come into our academy.’ We won the match 3-0. I scored the first goal then Albert scored the second with a great header. But the third goal was impressive for all of us. Albert was one-on-one against the goalkeeper, he rounded the goalkeeper and I was running in front of him. All he had to do was to score that goal but he passed it to me and I scored the third goal, so I got that spot and went to the academy. After the match I went to him and asked him why? Albert said; ‘Because you (Ronaldo) are better than me.’”

Journalists then went to Albert’s house to confirm the story. And Albert told them it was true; and that his career ended as a player after that match. Albert was then asked how he acquired so much wealth with his luxurious house and cars. Albert replied: “It is from Ronaldo!”

Saul was a huge threat to the believers in Jerusalem. He has unleashed several attacks on the church in Jerusalem yet unsatisfied. In his zeal to do more harm to the church, he personally went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus that he might arrest those who belonged to the Way. It was on his way to Damascus that Saul was arrested and called by Christ to be his apostle. When Saul began to preach in Damascus, the people were all in shock regarding this sudden turnaround. His Jewish brethren became disappointed that Saul had joined the Way and they conspired to kill him (Acts 9:24). Saul escaped and returned to Jerusalem.

Our first reading of today began with Saul’s return to Jerusalem. His return proved even more difficult for him to carry out his mission of evangelisation. The disciples Saul attempted to join were the same people he vehemently persecuted. So it is understandable why they felt unsafe having Saul around. But one man intervened to douse their fears. This man was Barnabas. We can say that Barnabas paved the way for Saul to thrive. Like Albert in our story, Barnabas gave Saul the pass that took Saul to another level in his career. Barnabas was not carried away or blinded by his own gifts but saw untapped humongous gifts in Saul that needed only chance and time to blossom. And so he took Saul and brought him to the apostles and testified how the Lord called Saul and how Saul preached boldly in Damascus. This humble gesture of Barnabas gave Saul a convenient platform to begin his ministry in Jerusalem. Truly, Barnabas was a son of encouragement.

Why was Barnabas inspired to intervene for Saul? Barnabas has in him the DNA of Christ that supports and promotes growth and productivity which was why he brought Saul to the limelight. Recall the words of Christ in the gospel of today; “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:15). It is the vine that supplies nutrients to the branches without which the branches becomes fruitless. Christ therefore is our source of life, love and fruitfulness. And every branch that remains with Christ the true vine has in him/her the life, love, and fruitfulness of Christ. The drive in Barnabas to see that Saul succeeds in his mission proves that he is the true branch of the true vine.   

Are you a true branch of the vine? The branch that produces love, and supports growth and productivity. Albert’s unselfish pass was a stepping stone to Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatness. Barnabas’ supportive intervention created a convenient platform for Saul’s successful ministry. Our genuine support and encouragement can begin to bud the untapped potentials of many people out there. Cristiano Ronaldo would go on to become one of the world’s greatest football players. Saul would become Paul, the greatest apostle of the New Testament whose journey and writings captures a larger part of the New Testament passage. And our encouragement and support could be the needed push that a neighbour needs to reach his/her desired greatness.   

Hear this; it is very likely Paul wouldn’t have excelled as much as he did had Barnabas not stepped in to speak on his behalf. When God works, he works in collaboration with the human instrument. So, as much as Christ called Paul to be his apostle; Christ also needs a Barnabas to pave way for Paul. And this is how the vine works. The vine supplies the invisible nutrients; but needs the branches to bear the visible fruits. It is the human role that materialises the divine will of God.

What if Barnabas was jealous and competitive? What if he was selfish and overambitious? Perhaps, that might have hindered the success of Paul’s missionary task. Our actions and inaction play a significant role in the success and failure of people’s story. Let us look around us; there could be a talent ready to bud that only needs encouragement and support for it to happen. We could make it happen if we put aside selfishness, jealousy, unhealthy competition, and excessive ambition. A true branch carries the DNA of the vine. If we are true disciples of Christ, the love of Christ should run in our DNA. Not love in word or speech but love in deed and truth. The kind of love that selflessly supports and encourages the growth and wellbeing of one another.  

Albert Fantrau may not be as rich as Cristiano Ronaldo; but he can look back and say: “I made the right choice; I wasn’t wrong after all. My sacrifice is paying off.” Seeing the success of Paul’s evangelism, Barnabas in heaven would proudly look back and be thankful to God that he stood in defence of Paul when Paul needed his support and encouragement. What about us? When we look back, what do we have to say?


Christ the true vine, we pray for the grace to absorb your love with which you nurture us your branches; so that we may bear the fruit of your love and support one another in kindness and generosity of spirit. Amen   


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