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Memorial of St. Barnabas

by Jun 11, 2024Friar Reflection

St. Barnabas was one of the prominent Christian disciples in Jerusalem, Jewish and Cypriot by birth. He was sent to Antioch as an emissary of the Church in Jerusalem and witnessed the work of the Lord. At some time before this, St. Paul had his Damascus Road experience and conversion. “When [Paul] arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26) and it seems he moved on to Tarsus and resumed his trade as a tentmaker.

In Acts 11:22, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch to proclaim the Word of God. While there he apparently heard that Saul, former persecutor of Christians, was in Tarsus. Barnabas brought him back to the faith community in Antioch where Paul became part of a thriving, nascent Christian assembly. Clearly the Spirit was working in Barnabas and Paul. While in Antioch “the Holy Spirit said,Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2).

It is as this point in the story that “Barnabas took charge of [Paul] and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.”

The story of St. Paul then occupies the remainder of the Acts of the Apostles. What do you know about St. Barnabas?

I always wonder what would have happened to St. Paul without the connection to Barnabas. It seems Paul has already been “put on hold” by the Church in Jerusalem. Would Paul have languished in Tarsus. In a way Barnabas seems to have become the sponsor, the padrino, of Paul to the Jerusalem leadership. It is after these missionary efforts of the Church reached a new crescendo.

Paul and Barnabas made a good missionary team. The Church of Antioch sent them on mission together (Acts 13) long with an assistant named John Mark. We come to know that John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. Without note or cause, we are simply told that John Mark left the mission and returned to Jerusalem. Why? Scripture is silent. Was he not cut out for missionary work? Was he returning to Jerusalem to report problems or to put St. Paul “on report?” Who knows? But we do know that when the second missionary journey came about, Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark and Paul refused. As told in Acts 15 Barnabas took Mark, and sailed to Cypress while Paul chose Silas and continued with his plan.

I mention all of this to point out what I always recall about St. Barnabas. He was the “salt of the earth.” The one who was ever seeking to pull together the differing elements of the nascent Christian church that they may be One. He is the one that vouched for Paul in the first Jerusalem visit. He is the one who did not mind that Paul’s light would shine more brightly.

Barnabas is the one who went to retrieve John Mark and get him back in the fields of the Lord. He lived as a reconciler, connector, and healer. I have no doubt that in his own quiet way, Barnabas lived the prelude to today’s Gospel: “Let your light shine before others. That they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Barnabas did what was his to do. May we do ours.

Image credit: Catholic News Agency