We live in a results-oriented world. A dog-eat-dog world. A what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. A what's-in-it-for-me world. A world that is quick to judge, quick to condemn, but slow to forgive, slow to encourage. Into that world today steps St. Barnabas, nicknamed by St. Luke "the Son of Encouragement".
In scripture we first meet Barnabas as an advocate of gentile (non-Jewish) Christians--a voice for the new, different, and sometimes looked-down-upon members of the Church. It is in this capacity that Barnabas seeks out and supports St. Paul, the one-time persecutor of the early Church, and becomes a long-time missionary co-worker of the great saint. Barnabas vouches for Paul's conversion and, thankfully for the history of Christianity, convinces the other disciples to give him another chance. We see something of a repeat of this story later on, this time with Barnabas supporting the evangelist [John] Mark, a failed missionary companion of Paul, and insisting that Paul give him another chance to accompany him and preach the Gospel. Paul refuses, leading to a sad rift between the two, one that is never healed. To the credit of both men they never accuse one another of heresy or sin, they simply end their professional relationship. After his split with Paul we do not hear from Barnabas again in scripture but one can assume, partially because the gospel that Barnabas new co-worker, Mark, writes becomes part of the scriptural canon, that St. Barnabas goes on to do great things in service of Christ.
It's not always easy to piece together the complicated maneuvers and relationships of the early Church, much less discern their lessons, but it's worth it, because Barnabas offers a couple of crucial lessons to us today:
- As we seek to do and accomplish things, even good things, even great things in service of the Gospel, we should never forget our duty to people. The Gospel is ultimately about serving and proclaiming the Good News to people, it does us no good to alienate and condemn even those who have made mistakes as we seek to follow Christ. Don't miss the opportunity to give someone a second chance, to stand up for the condemned as you try to accomplish your mission.
- We will have disagreements, we will have arguments, we will have divisions even on the most noble of endeavors. These disagreements may not always end in an easy reconciliation, but they don't have to end in vitriol and hatred, either. Barnabas and Paul found themselves unable to work together, but they did not descend into base accusations, name-calling, and subterfuge. We can fall to the temptation of destroying the reputation and confidence of people after we have personal or professional disagreements with them, this is unnecessary and unchristian.
Take a look at Acts of the Apostles some day, you will be surprised at the relevant and powerful lessons you can find in the relationships described within. St. Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, is a witness to the importance of not allowing our drive and our sense of mission to allow us to bowl people over in it's wake. To take the time to advocate for those who are cast-down and practice charity even when complete reconciliation is impossible.
St. Barnabus the Son of Encouragement, pray for us!