Today is one of my favorite feast days because an early apostle, who doesn’t get a lot of play, gets a nod from the church.
Today the church honors St. Barnabas, a Jewish-Christian from the Diaspora. His name means, “child of encouragement,” probably because he was such a dynamite preacher.
He has long been thought to be one of the seventy that Jesus sent out in Luke 10, and he was a staunch defender of Paul in the courts of the early church, believing that Paul had indeed had a conversion.
His early work was in Antioch, where the church was thriving, and he asked Paul to assist him there…yes, you read that correctly, Paul assisted Barnabas in his early career. Eventually Paul would take the lead, but he learned how to lead from Barnabas. This little tidbit has been lost in history due to Paul’s enormous influence and ego, but it’s worth remembering.
In the early church arguments over the inclusion of Gentiles, Barnabas sided mostly with Paul, calling for Gentiles to be accepted into the fold. Barnabas eventually took John Mark under his tutelage, leaving Paul to travel with Silas, and as Barnabas headed toward Cyprus, we lose track of him in the fog of history.
Lore states that Barnabas was stoned in Cyprus around the year 60.
The Epistle of Barnabas, supposedly written by the apostle, was widely used in the early church and almost made the canon, and some think Barnabas is the author of Hebrews (I don’t buy this).
Barnabas is a reminder for the church, and for all of us, to look just behind the shining stars to see who made them shine. He was Paul’s mentor and defender in Paul’s early days, and like every good teacher, encouraged Paul to outshine him one day (for better or for worse).
-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s “New Book of Festivals & Commemorations”