Monday, June 11, 2012

Barnabas, Apostle

Feast of St. Barnabas, Apostle
June 11, 2012

St. Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus. He was, therefore, like Paul, a Jew of the Diaspora in contrast to the Palestinian Jews like Peter. A man of means, Barnabas sold some land and gave the proceeds to the early Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36-37). His name was originally Joseph, but the apostles gave him the name Barnabas after his generous gift.  This name appears to be from the Aramaic meaning ‘the son (of the) prophet’. However, the Greek text of the Acts 4:36 explains the name as meaning “son of consolation” or “son of encouragement”. A similar link between “prophecy” and “encouragement” is found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:3). In this case the word “prophecy” should be understood in the original sense of the word, that is, as speaking the word of God. It does not carry any overtones of special individual divine revelations, but someone who is skilled in proclaiming what has been revealed. Therefore a pastor who delivers a good Law-Gospel sermon is “prophesying” because he is being faithful to the word of God. To put this another way, Barnabas was a great preacher. All that we know for certain about Barnabas comes from the pages of the New Testament.
St Paul informs us that Barnabas was a cousin of John Mark (Colossians 4:10). He is traditionally regarded as one of the seventy disciples commissioned by Jesus to go ahead of him a prepare towns for our Lord’s visit (Luke 10:1). It was Barnabas who was convinced of the genuineness of Paul’s conversion and vouched for him to the Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). Sometime later, the Church at Jerusalem heard about the growing Christian community in Antioch so they sent Barnabas to oversee the young Church there (Acts 11:22). While at Antioch, Barnabas went to Tarsus and brought Paul back to Antioch to help him (Acts 11:25-26). After about two years, the church at Antioch was strong enough to send out its own missionaries, and they commissioned Barnabas and Paul for this task (Acts 13:2-3). They took along with them John Mark, who left the mission half-way through.

Returning from this first missionary journey to Antioch, Barnabas and Paul were sent to Jerusalem to consult with the church there regarding the relation of Gentiles to the church (Acts 15:2; Galatians 2:1). According to Galatians 2:9-10, Barnabas was included with Paul in the agreement made at that first “ecumenical” council. This council officially opened the church to none-Jews. That is to say, they didn’t have to become Jews first in order to become Christians. This matter having been settled, they returned again to Antioch, bringing the agreement of the council with them.

When it was time for the second missionary journey Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along again, but Paul would have nothing to do with it. Though many have tried to exonerate Paul, no doubt due to his great contributions, I can’t help but feel that Paul was just plain wrong and Barnabas correct. At any rate, the disagreed broke up the team. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus; Paul took Silas and headed north through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:36-41). Based on 2 Timothy 4:11, it is safe to say that Paul recognized the sinfulness of his attitude and actions, repented, and was reconciled with Mark. Based on 1 Corinthians 9:6 it is also safe to say that the reconciliation included Barnabas (who always seems to be willing to “put the best construction” on things. Barnabas, though, was not perfect either. His actions, as related in Galatians 2:13, gave a poor witness to the Gospel.

Nothing more is known for sure of the activities of Barnabas. Tradition relates that Barnabas died a martyr’s death in Cyprus by being stoned.

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Appropriate prayers include:
  • For preachers of the gospel
  • For reconciliation of those at variance with one another
  • For the relief of the poor and those who work in this field
  • For Christian outreach
  • For a faithful witness in word and deed

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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