For the average modern-day Catholic, one’s familiarity with St. Barnabas probably extends as far as knowing that he was a companion of St. Paul during Paul’s early missionary work. But when I delved deeper into the Acts of the Apostles to learn more about Barnabas, I was surprised to see just how influential he was in the early days of the Church.
He first appears in the Acts of the Apostles 4:36: “Joseph, also named by the apostles Barnabas” sells a piece of his property and donates the money for the Apostles to use. He next appears in Chapter 9, when he takes charge of the newly-converted Paul and introduces him to the twelve Apostles, and later, he brings Paul into the missionary work for the growing, Jewish-and-Gentile-based Christian community at Antioch (in modern-day Turkey). Chapters 13 and 14 could be appropriately nicknamed “The Adventures of Paul & Barnabas,” for they include: an encounter with a false prophet (Acts 13:6-12), having their teachings embraced by Gentiles and just as thoroughly rejected by Jews (Acts 13:44-52), one near-stoning and one nearly-fatal stoning (Acts 14:5-6 and 14:19-20, respectively), and performing a miracle only to be mistaken for incarnations of the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-14). And yet, the Holy Spirit compelled them onward! The next chapters recount more of Sts. Paul and Barnabas’s evangelizing work together and then focus on St. Paul after he and Barnabas went separate ways.
Personally, I had never known that St. Barnabas—whom I had often envisioned as a sort of sidekick to St. Paul’s evangelizing heroics during his early years as a missionary—was actually the man indirectly responsible for Paul’s later renown. It can be difficult to believe that someone has truly changed, and even more difficult to advocate publicly for that person before he has had a chance to ‘prove himself’—and yet that is what Barnabas did. Would Paul ever have been accepted as a ‘true’ Christian if the well-regarded Barnabas had not been there to acknowledge Paul publicly and to put him in touch with the Apostles? How long might it have taken Paul to reach the path of the missionary if Barnabas had not sought him out specifically to assist the efforts in Antioch?
In our modern, post-Christian society, there are many opportunities for us to be the Barnabas to someone else’s Paul. Perhaps it might mean asking for help from someone with a task that could ignite their zeal for the Lord and nurture their God-given talents. Perhaps we can see the potential for someone else’s faith to deepen and for the great things they could accomplish. Or perhaps the opportunities we encounter are chances to be a witness to the truth—even if that witness brings persecution, falls on deaf ears, or we must move on to other places, as Paul and Barnabas did.
As we commemorate the feast of St. Barnabas, let us ask for his intercession in revealing to us how we can most effectively share the Gospel today and invite others into a life of meaningful discipleship.
Question for Reflection: Has anyone ever advocated for you or have you ever been an advocate on someone’s behalf? What was this experience like?