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St. Barnabas

Posted by Theology of Home on
St. Barnabas

 By Denise Trull

Today is the feast of St. Barnabas. Oddly enough, I did not make his formal acquaintance until I was in my mid thirties. I had, of course, heard his name bandied about during Eastertide here and there over the years, but I never stopped to wonder about his call or his role in the drama of our infant, but fast growing Church. I did love his name, however. It was a strong name, heavy with syllables that meant business. Bar-na-bas. It came as no surprise then that it translated into the wonderful meaning: “son of encouragement.” For that alone, it found a place on my growing list of baby names -- you know, all those names you dream of when you are weaving castles in the air about love and marriage and babies as a young twenty-something.

The day I finally did meet St Barnabas, I was, let’s just say, not at my fighting best. In fact, I was huddled in an old chair dragged close to the laboriously chugging window unit in the only air conditioned room of our old brick house in the city. I was nine months pregnant in a July heat wave trying to pray, but actually just wondering how in the world I was going to waddle my way through this day, from room to room, chasing a toddler and trying not to trip over all the legos that I could no longer stoop down to put away. How would I cook dinner in the 100 degree kitchen, or brave the stairs to the laundry room once more? The next twelve hours loomed large and forbidding. I sighed, turned the air conditioner knob up to 10, and opened my Bible. I was reading the Acts of the Apostles, and this was the moment I really saw St Barnabas. It was like he reached out of the book and pulled me in with enthusiastic urgency and said: “You WILL make it through this day.”

I hit the pages running because Paul and Barnabas had started their day fleeing to Lystra and Derbe to avoid being stoned in Iconium. Once they caught one small breath in Lystra, they immediately began to preach again. I found myself suddenly rooting for them audibly, armchair warrior that I was, on the edge of my seat. I and my hard pressed sciatic nerve were filled with impressed admiration that they had just kept at it without taking any sort of rest after walking so far. Had I even read this before? It was splendid. 

Then zealous Paul suddenly heals a crippled man. This is wonderful of course, but miracles bring attention. News spreads like wild fire and suddenly Paul and Barnabas are assumed to be Greek gods. WHAT?!? I laughed out loud at this twist in the story, trying to imagine the looks they exchanged with each other. Barnabas  gets full honors: he is assumed to be Zeus. I am sure he reminded Paul of that later! Paul seems to be a dead ringer for Hermes because of his wonderful voice. They quickly have to figure out a way to convince these people of Lystra that NO they are not gods. They rush into the crowd and try to yell over the frenzy of shrill, crazed, excited people hurrying their bellowing oxen to sacrifice and showering the two dusty apostles with flowered garlands reserved for the gods. Paul and Barnabas are finally able to convince them that, no, they are not gods, but have brought the good news of the real and loving God who cares for them and wishes them all good, and who died so they might live. They end this day by fleeing a stoning in Lystra and taking to the open road once again.

I finished this reading and suddenly realized that getting through the next twelve hours seemed rather doable. Barnabas had promised and he had come through. God would provide. True to his name, he had brought me courage. What a beautiful way to be remembered: as a son of encouragement.

To encourage means "to give someone support, confidence, or hope." St. Barnabas did all three of these things for so many different types of people all throughout his life. His name is happily sprinkled throughout the book of Acts and wherever it is mentioned people suddenly find themselves able to go on.

When St. Paul first came to Jerusalem after his conversion, the members of that Church and even the apostles were afraid and suspicious of him. They didn't quite trust that he was one of them. It was Barnabas who stepped in to convince his brothers. I think he did so after sneaking away one day to listen to Paul preach on his own. Barnabas was probably amazed by Paul’s delivery and thought how much help he would be to the Church. Barnabas didn't even once think that Paul might outshine his own preaching, or that Paul's zeal might be greater than his own, or that he might lose his own standing as a beloved leader in the Church to this new and zealous apostle. Barnabas thought only of Christ and how He must be served!

He convinced the sanguine Peter to meet the choleric Paul. And I suspect Paul was amazed by this cheerful humility -- no social climbing or competition here for leadership. Just encouragement. Paul as a new convert (whether he would admit it or not) was probably touched to the heart that Barnabas drew him in to the ministry with such open admiration.

Barnabas also had a young cousin, John Mark. He accompanied St. Barnabas and St. Paul on their first Missionary journey but by the time they reached Cyprus, Mark was tired and discouraged by all the discomforts of such an "energetic" pace undoubtedly set by the driven St. Paul. Mark felt unprepared for all this misery. He went back home feeling a terrible failure, and St. Paul impetuously gave up on him.  But Barnabas did not.

When they were to go on their second journey, Barnabas wanted to bring Mark again. Paul said a flat no. Being an all-in type person, he probably had no patience for young, waffling Mark. Barnabas must have remembered what it was like to be young and hesitant. He decided to split with Paul this time and took Mark with himself. On that journey, he patiently showed Mark how to preach and teach, how to pray better and grow in patience and fortitude. He gave him confidence -- so much so that Mark grew very holy and in the end  was to become a great source of consolation for St. Paul in his old age. This was all due to Barnabas.  

Barnabas, by his very enthusiasm, generosity, kindness, and open-hearted friendliness gave the young Church hope. Barnabas is that steady friend who can see where everyone is coming from: the timid, the bold, the energetic, the easily tired ones, and even refereeing a Peter and Paul who inevitably squared off once in awhile. He probably laughed a lot at the foibles of being human. And I know when things got difficult or frightening for the small communities of Christians, they all felt so much the better when they knew Barnabas was in their midst. Barnabas was that human chrism God sometimes blesses us with -- that sweet oil of charity that made the early Church love and live better. He smoothed the rough edges of life. What a beautiful vocation to have, being a son of encouragement. Let us thank God today for all the Barnabas people in our lives -- those who simply live to encourage others on the road to Heaven. 

I did get out of my chair that morning and did make it through my day. I managed three loads of laundry, picked my way through the legos, played trucks and cars with my toddler on the coffee table, and made a huge pot of spaghetti in the hundred degree heat. All because Barnabas told me I could do it! We were fast friends after that day. And even though I never named a baby after him, he didn’t hold it against me. He never once reminded me that, indeed, he had once been mistaken for Zeus!

Denise Trull is the editor in chief of Sostenuto, an online journal for writers and thinkers of every kind to share their work with each other. Her own writing is also featured regularly at Theology of Home, and has appeared in Dappled Things. She also can be found at her Substack, The Inscapist. Denise is the mother of seven grown, adventurous children and has acquired the illustrious title of grandmother. She lives with her husband Tony in St. Louis, Missouri. 

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