Most people who have encounters with the Bible may have heard of Barnabas, but I am imagine quite a few were like me, and couldn’t place him beyond the fact that he was in the New Testament. I think it’s time he became more known and recognised!
Firstly, the name we know him by isn’t his birth name, which was Joseph, but like many of his time, his known name is a nickname reflecting the amazing act of generosity he made, selling all his goods and giving the money to the apostles in Jerusalem. He wasn’t the only one supporting the group that way, so I think it must have also been other facets of his character, but he became Barnabas, the ‘son of encouragement’ from then on.
He wasn’t only a generous and sacrificial giver, though, but one who gave the fruits of his own work. And one who risked his life for Jesus and the Gospel. He brought outsiders like a dangerous Jew called Saul to the faith: he was open-minded not dogmatic, and thought beyond the Jewish mindset. This attitude got Barnabas and Paul into trouble, but also, ironically, caused a clash between Barnabas and Paul.
All this ‘Barnabas and Paul’ thing needs to be explained. Barnabas was Paul’s mentor, the one who trained the man who is perceived as the most influential early Christian missionary. Barnabas did more than potter around the edges of the early Christian missionary field! Yet he didn’t sit in the glory of what he had achieved at all, but allowed himself to slide into the background when the gifted Paul was ready to take on the full mantel. So if Paul is the founder of Christianity, what does that make Barnabas?!
Barnabas also worked closely with another key player of the time, John Mark, who is held to have written the Gospel of Mark. John Mark wasn’t the most confident of evangelists, and actually quit his work with Barnabas and Paul, which caused Paul to write him off. But not Barnabas. And when he wanted to work with John Mark again, it caused a split with Paul that sent them in different geographic directions. Yet, much later, Paul called for John Mark because he would be useful to him! We can ask ourselves if, without Barnabas, would we have the Gospel of Mark? How many other people of talent have been lost throughout history because there was no ‘son of encouragement’ to give them a second chance?
And that is the message for us all. There are many role models in the Bible: striding prophets imbued with God’s message; amazing saints whom we can revere and hope to emulate in small ways. But we can go for broke with Barnabas: look at those around us and their Christian work with positive eyes; encourage and don’t give up on them; be a little less judgmental, a little suspicious and try to become a son or daughter of encouragement.
If you want to read more, have a look at this super website page I found when writing this: