What we do know is that he was a Levite (a member of the Jewish priestly class) from Cyprus who is first made known in the Bible in Acts Chapter 4: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
It was Barnabas who convinced the disciples in Jerusalem that Paul had indeed been converted from persecutor of Jesus’ followers to true believer. “When he [Saul/Paul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” (Acts 9:26-30) Barnabas truly believed in the power of the Gospel to change people’s lives. He also firmly believed that the Good News of the Cross was for all – not just his fellow Jews, but to Gentiles as well and argued successfully that Gentile converts did not need to adopt Jewish dietary and religious laws in order to be part of the fledgling Church. (Acts 15)
Barnabas was sent to strengthen the Church in Antioch (in modern-day Turkey). He then sent for Paul to help him. Barnabas and Paul worked together to bring Jewish converts and Gentiles together as a new community – the “Christian” community. Barnabas and Paul went on missionary journey together and preached throughout Asia Minor. The Church wanted to send them on a second missionary trip together, but due to an argument over Mark who had deserted them on a previous occasion, Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went elsewhere.
What we learn from the life and ministry of Barnabas is the necessity of teamwork and of reconciliation. Barnabas worked with others to complete the tasks God laid before him. He believed in Paul’s conversion and spoke up for him in front of the disciples in Jerusalem. He was willing to give Mark a second chance after Mark abandoned him and Paul on their missionary journey. He worked diligently to bring the Jewish believers and the Gentile converts together into one cohesive community. The struggles he faced and overcame are the same Christians still wrestle with today.
Lord, we thank you for the life and witness of Barnabas who gave his possessions and life in the service of the poor and for the spread of the Gospel. Grant us the same spirit of encouragement that we, too, may use our lives and possessions to bring relief to those in need and glory to your Holy Name. Amen