St. Barnabas

Today is the Memorial of St. Barnabas one of the prominent Christian disciples in Jerusalem. According to Acts 4:36, Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew. In Acts 11:22, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to Antioch to proclaim the word of God. While there he apparently heard that St. Paul, former persecutor of Christians, was in Tarsus. Acts 9 tells of the conversion of Saul in the memorable Damascus Road story.  What Acts leaves out and St. Paul provides in Galatians 11, after the experience in Damascus, for three years, Paul was in “Arabia” (Gal 1:17) In the first century this refers to the Syro-Arabian desert, farther north, which includes portions of modern-day Syria and Jordan; likely the region of the Nabataean Arabs, east and south of Damascus.

…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days.” (Gal 1:17-18)

There is much speculation about the duration of time between the events of the Damascus Road and the arrival in Jerusalem. The speculation centers on how long he was in Arabia (was this the three years) or how long did he remain in Damascus after Arabia (was that the three years). The most simple explanation is that it is most reasonable to assume that he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, not three years after returning to Damascus—but, either way, it was at least three years before he ever consulted the apostles in Jerusalem. And how did that go?

“When [Paul] arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:26-27)

Paul and Barnabas made a good missionary team. The Church of Antioch sent them on mission together (Acts 13) long with an assistant named John Mark. We come to know that John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. Without note or cause, we are simply told that John Mark left the mission and returned to Jerusalem. Why? Scripture is silent. Was he not cut out for missionary work? Was he returning to Jerusalem to report problems or to put St. Paul “on report?” Who knows? But we do know that when the second missionary journey came about, Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark and Paul refused. As told in Acts 15 Barnabas took Mark, and sailed to Cypress while Paul chose Silas and continued with his plan.

I mention all of this to point out what I always recall about St. Barnabas. He was one who was ever seeking to pull together the differing elements of the nascent Christian church that they may be one. He is the one that vouched for Paul in the first Jerusalem visit. He is the one who went to retrieve John Mark and get him back in the fields of the Lord. He lived as a reconciler, connector, and healer. He is a model of one of the great and often needed gifts of the Spirit.

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