Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN
Today the church remembers Saint Barnabas the Apostle. The collect assigned for today speaks of his generosity in giving of his life and substance for the poor and the spreading of the Gospel. His reputation for generosity no doubt comes—at least in part—from his first appearance in sacred scripture. In Acts 4:36 we are told that he, “sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.” In our reading from Acts, we are also told of his involvement in bringing a charitable gift to the Christians in Judea who were suffering under a famine.
Saint Barnabas was more than just materially generous, however. He also had generosity of spirit. Our reading describes him as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” He was named Joseph at birth, but the rest of the Apostles dubbed him “Barnabas,” which means “son of encouragement.” The scriptures gives us clues as to why this name was especially appropriate.
When Saint Paul—in those days named Saul—first came to Jerusalem in an attempt to join the disciples, no one trusted him. They were all scared to death of him! After all, Saul had been a relentless persecutor of the Church who had been determined to wipe it off the face of the Earth. It was Barnabas who believed in him when no one else would. He personally vouched for him to the other disciples. Barnabas took Saul under his wing and they became partners in ministry.
When the Gentiles in Antioch accepted Jesus, the Apostles sent Barnabas to encourage them in the faith. Many in the Church at that time were suspicious of Gentile converts, but Barnabas was able to recognize the grace of God among them. He and Saul (Saint Paul) labored among them for a year encouraging them and preaching the Gospel. It is actually there in Antioch that people first began to be called Christians!
Paul and Barnabas continued their successful ministry together; spreading the Gospel all across Asia Minor. The mission was such a success that the two planned a second mission. It is here that the friendship and partnership of Paul and Barnabas hit a serious rough patch. Barnabas insisted that they take a young man named John Mark along, but Paul refused. Apparently John Mark had begun with them on their first journey but had turned back. We are not altogether sure why, but perhaps the young John Mark was homesick, or afraid. Perhaps the mission field was more difficult than he anticipated. At any rate, he abandoned them. For this reason Paul did not think he was fit to be a missionary, but Barnabas took up his case. He believed in John Mark and wanted to give him a second chance. The mission split in two with Barnabas and Mark going to Cyprus, and Paul and Silas going to Syria.
This story is one story where we see some of the human fallibility of the great Apostle Paul. Paul was the great preacher of grace, but he failed to show grace to John Mark in this situation. Ironically, Paul would not have become the man that he was if Barnabas had not showed grace to him by believing in him, standing up for him, and giving him a second chance. What Barnabas did for Paul, he did also for John Mark, and history shows that his instincts were correct. Later in life, Paul was able to accept that Barnabas was right in giving John Mark another chance. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul sends for John Mark, writing that he has been very helpful to his ministry.
Being generous of spirit means looking for the best in others, and being willing to put our self on the line for the sake of encouraging others. Where would the Church be without Barnabas’ generosity of spirit? Saint Paul is perhaps the most influential figure, apart from Christ himself, in the shaping of Christian doctrine and he owes his career and ministry to Barnabas’ generosity of spirit and encouragement. Scholars disagree on the point, but from very ancient times it has also been argued that John Mark was the same individual who wrote the Gospel of Mark.
Barnabas was able to look beyond the past of a person, and to recognize the grace of God at work in them making them new. He knew that the patience, tolerance, and kindness of God leads to repentance, and so he sought to be a channel of that kindness and forbearance in the lives of others. In this way he was like our Lord, who while we were yet sinners, died for us.
Do you look for the best in others or are you quick to point out their faults? Do you dwell on the mistakes of others or show them forgiveness with an eye towards the person that they might become? Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. Loving our enemy doesn’t mean loving the evil that they commit or pretending everything is OK. It means loving the person that they were intended to be, the person that they can become through the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Can we look beyond the dross of sin in our neighbor and even our enemies to see their “glory self,” the person hidden with Christ in God, the person that can only be revealed through being glorified with Christ?
The generosity of spirit to see other people in this way is the fruit of truly understanding God’s kindness and mercy to us. When we stand amazed at God’s wonderful kindness and grace towards us, our hearts are open in mercy towards others. We forgive others their trespasses as he has forgiven us ours. Let us, like Saint Barnabas, be full of the Holy Spirit and Faith.