Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles St. Barnabas, the first-century patron of peacemakers, Cyprus, and Antioch.
We know nothing about St. Barnabas except what Scripture tells us. Luke says he was “a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24; NAB). No one could ask for a better recommendation!
The saint was born at Cyprus, a Jew of the tribe of Levi. His given name was Joseph, but the apostles called him Barnabas, that meant “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36; NAB). That nickname suited him to a T for everywhere he went he seems to have played a major supportive role in establishing the Christian community. While he was not one of the Twelve, the early church recognized him as an apostle.
Wherever Barnabas saw a need he tried to meet it. For example, he sold his property and donated the money to the apostles for the poor. And when Paul arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas authorized him to the community, overcoming their fears of the former persecutor (Acts 9:26-27).
Later the apostles sent him to care for the fledgling church at Antioch (Acts 11:20-22). He brought Paul from Tarsus to help him., and the community flourished under their leadership (Acts 11:25-26). Twice Barnabas and Paul traveled to Jerusalem on behalf of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:27-30; 15:2 ). He also accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey that began in Cyprus and circuited through Asia Minor (Acts 13:1-2,7).
Before the next missionary journey, however, Paul and Barnabas quarreled over some personal and pastoral matters and decided to separate. Barnabas returned to Cyprus and evangelized the island. Paul’s later references to Barnabas in his letters indicate that the two apostles were ultimately reconciled (see 1 Cor 9:6; Col 4:10).
Early Christians attributed an epistle to Barnabas, which features this distinction of the way of light from the way of darkness:
“There are two ways of doctrine and authority, one of light, and the other of darkness. But these two ways differ greatly. For over one are stationed the light-bringing angels of God, but the angels of Satan are over the other.
“This, then, is the way of light: Love God who created you. Glorify God who redeemed you from death. Be simple in heart, and rich in spirit. Hate doing anything unpleasing to God. Do not exalt yourself, but be of a lowly mind. Do not forsake the commandments of the Lord. Love your neighbor more than your own soul. Do not slay the child by procuring an abortion, nor destroy it after it is born. Receive your trials as good things. Do not hesitate to give without complaint. Confess your sins. This is the way of light.
“But the way of darkness is crooked and cursed, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment. In this way are the things that destroy the soul: idolatry, overconfidence, the arrogance of power, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, adultery, rape, haughtiness, transgressions, deceit, malice, avarice, and absence of any fear of God. Also in this way are those who persecute the good, those who hate truth, those who do not attend to the widow and orphan, those who do not pity the needy, those who murder children, those who oppress the afflicted and are in every respect transgressors.”
Barnabas himself walked in the way of light. He did not exalt himself, but saw himself as a servant. He was not full of himself, nor was his head swollen with big plans. He just did what needed to be done—an excellent model of service for us all.
Legend says Barnabas died at Salamis. Cyprus, in AD 61.