His name was Joseph, a Levite from the island of Cyprus. He was very likely one of the thousands who came to Christ during Peter’s speech on the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). Joseph was one of the first to sell his property to help the poor (Acts 4:36-37) and is listed first among the prophets and teachers of Antioch, one of the most important Christian communities, second only to Jerusalem (Acts 13:1). The fact he is listed among the prophets of Antioch is especially important. For the early Church, as today, prophets aren’t reduced to those who accurately predict future events, but those who speak to others “for their upbuilding, encouragement and consolation…so that the Church may be edified” (1 Corinthians 14:3,5). Because Joseph of Cyprus lived that prophetic call with passion, the Apostles gave him a new name – Barnabas, which means “a son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Today, we celebrate his feast day and recall the indispensable role he played in the early Church and the fruits we enjoy because he upbuilt, encouraged and consoled two very important people.
Saul of Tarsus
When Saul came to Christ on the road to Damascus and tried to enter the early Christian communities, most were suspicious and few believed him. After all, this was the man responsible for the imprisonment and martyrdom of many Christians. Surely this was a wolf trying to infiltrate God’s flock. But one man, Barnabas, believed Saul’s story, took him to meet the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27) and became his missionary companion (their first stop was Barnabas’s homeland, the island of Cyprus). It is there that Saul changed his name to Paul (Acts 13:9), after leading his first convert to Christ, a man interestingly named Sergius Paulus. Around a third of the New Testament writings are attributed to St. Paul, the fruit, in part, of one early Christian who encouraged and supported a new brother in Christ.
John Mark of Jerusalem
Later, a young man would accompany Barnabas and Paul on their missionary travels and abruptly leave, returning home. That young disciple was John Mark. When he later asked to rejoin their efforts, Paul refused (Acts 15:38-39). But one man said, “I will build him up, encourage and console him.” Again, that was Barnabas. According to early Church traditions, Barnabas introduced John Mark to another apostle named Peter. At the urging of the first Christians, Peter began to share his memories of the words and works of Jesus. A young scribe, named John Mark, wrote them down and we know them today as the Gospel of Mark. Thank you Barnabas!
What can the life of St. Barnabas teach us?
Identify the person(s) in your parish community that you have observed is always building up, encouraging, consoling and edifying the Body of Christ. Share the story of Barnabas with them, and thank them for all the ways they have loved and strengthened your parish.
Pray, through the intercession of St. Barnabas that you will be a prophetic presence to all that you meet today (Tweet this). Look for opportunities every day to be that person at work, in your neighborhood, in your parish who is always building up, encouraging, consoling and edifying others.
Identify one person that you can directly and regularly upbuild and encourage in their walk with Christ, as Barnabas did.