Fr. Francis Scaria
A character in the New Testament who has fascinated me so much is Barnabas. The name means “son of encouragement”. That is what he really was. The Acts of the Apostles refers to many who sold their properties and brought the proceeds to the apostles’ feet. Then it specifically mentions a Levite from Cyprus, Joseph, among them who was given the name Barnabas by the Apostles. The Apostles probably recognised the quality of encouragement in him. (cf. Acts 4:34-37) If we carefully read between the lines, the Acts of the Apostles contrasts Barnabas with Ananias who kept back some of the proceeds from the sale of his property (cf. Acts 4:37-5:11).
Saul after his conversion wanted to join the Apostles in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. But the apostles would not welcome him because of his awful track-record of being a vehement persecutor of Christians. It was then that Barnabas brought him to the apostles and explained to them about the conversion that Saul underwent. This helped Saul who became Paul to gain access to the leaders of the early Church (Acts 9:26-30). It is thus Barnabas who brought encouragement to St. Paul in the most crucial moments of life and helped him to officially commence his ministry.
The Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch where he preached with great success. At the very outset he rejoiced at the work of the Lord in Antioch and encouraged all believers “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion”. Acts mentions the traits of his character – He was (1) a good man, (2) full of the Holy Spirit and (3) full of faith (cf. Acts 11:24). He is remembered as the first among the prophets and teachers in Antioch, which was the centre of all missionary activities after Jerusalem (cf. Acts 13:1).
Not being able to do anything substantial, Paul returned to his hometown Tarsus. Barnabas invited Paul to join the ministry with him. At least for one year Paul stayed with Barnabas and ministered to God’s people. Then the Holy Spirit assigned a special ministry to Barnabas and Paul. Thus they began their first missionary journey. During this journey they were assisted by John Mark. Paul gradually emerged as the leading figure and Barnabas began to assist him faithfully. The difficulties they encountered during their missionary journey discouraged John Mark who parted company with them at Pamphylia (See Act 15:38).
Together with Paul, Barnabas participated in the Jerusalem Council where the Church discovered the will of God in solving a major problem. When they were to begin another missionary journey after the council, Barnabas thought of helping John Mark to overcome the discouragement and start all over again. Hence he proposed to Paul to take John Mark along for the missionary journey. But Paul refused to accommodate him in his team. Barnabas argued vehemently in favour of John Mark and finally finding Paul adamant on not taking John Mark along, Barnabas decided to part ways with Paul. He then took John Mark with him and continued the ministry separately. Thus Barnabas brought sunshine into the life of John Mark by helping him to overcome a crisis situation in the initial stages of his ministry. With the encouragement that he received from Barnabas John Mark came to be recognised later and for ever as one of the four evangelists of the New Testament. To add to that, the Gospel of St. Mark became the base for other evangelists to write their accounts of the life of Jesus.
May this spirit of encouragement that Barnabas cherished become an example for our personal lives too.
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