Have you ever needed encouragement? Ever needed a second chance, even when you didn’t really deserve it?
God gives us these gifts through grace, and sometimes that grace flows through his servants. St. Barnabas was such a servant.
Barnabas first appears in Acts 4:36: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
From the early days, Barnabas earned the moniker “son of encouragement,” and would become perhaps the greatest figure in the growth of the early church outside the Twelve and Paul, precisely because of his gift to encourage others.
When Saul-turned-Paul first came to Jerusalem in Acts 9, he was shunned by the disciples. After all, he’d just been hunting them down. In Acts 9:27, Barnabas brings Paul to the disciples, and encourages them to welcome him in the grace of God, as a brother: “He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”
Barnabas became a constant companion of Paul, and was instrumental in building up the church in Antioch, where the disciples were first known as Christians (Acts 11:25-26).
Barnabas’ encouragement was shown again in building up his cousin Mark. Scholars are split on whether Barnabas’ cousin Mark is the same as Mark the Evangelist, author of the Gospel according to Mark. Regardless, Barnabas’ cousin Mark benefited greatly from Barnabas’ encouragement, and the church benefited even more.
In Acts 13:13, Mark turns back from a mission trip with Barnabas and Paul to return to Jerusalem. We’re not told why Mark turned back, but apparently it angered Paul. When Barnabas suggests taking Mark along on another mission in Acts 15:36-41, Paul refuses, causing a rift between him and Barnabas. They split ways: Paul taking Silas to Syria and Cilicia, Barnabas going on to his native Cyprus.
But, Barnabas didn’t give up on Mark. He took Mark with him to Cyprus, keeping him within the fold of ministry, giving him the second chance Paul denied. Tradition holds Barnabas was martyred in Cyprus, but his positive influence over Mark, and Mark’s relationship with Paul, seems to have survived.
Mark is mentioned in three of Paul’s epistles as a useful member of the ministry, most notably in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
That work may never have come off if Barnabas hadn’t stuck by Mark, encouraged him and encouraged Paul to reopen his heart to a disciple who had wavered. If you side with the scholars who say Mark, cousin of Barnabas, is the same as Mark the Evangelist, then we have to wonder if the Gospel according to Mark would have been written if Barnabas had not helped retain him within the fold of the early church. And, we can wonder with some gravity if we’d even have Paul, and his invaluable contributions to the church and Scripture, if not for Barnabas.
Barnabas, who is easily overlooked among names like Mark, Paul and Peter, was a humble and yet invaluable servant of God. By his encouragement and his willingness to extend grace, even if it meant going against the disciples to champion Paul, or to anger Paul to champion Mark, Barnabas seems to be the glue that held this motley crew together.
I think we all have opportunities to be that glue, to offer encouragement and grace where it is needed, to those who need it most. Who in your life needs that encouragement? Who needs that second chance? Do you need to offer it? To accept it? These are things on which we can pray, and pray for the strength and courage to be like Barnabas, the son of encouragement.