Without question Paul is one of the most well-known, pivotal, and remarkable men to serve Jesus Christ as an evangelizer. Yet without a certain brother in Christ–Saint Barnabas, whose feast we celebrate today–it’d be doubtful we’d even have the Saint Paul we honor and give thanks for in our age.
It’s easy to overlook Barnabas in Acts of the Apostles. Paul gets a lot more mention and has quite a few dramatic adventures. But at so many essential turning points in Paul’s life, Barnabas is there, encouraging Paul and enabling Paul to use his unique gifts to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For example, after his conversion and escape from Damascus, Paul (then Saul) tries to join the community of disciples at Jerusalem. But, they are all afraid of him (Acts 9:26). They don’t believe his conversion is real or genuine. Barnabas steps in convinces the leaders of Paul’s character and conversion. He opens the path for Paul’s acceptance and his work as a preacher in Jerusalem. Barnabas makes Paul’s fame and success possible. Barnabas is an evangelization enabler.
And it doesn’t end there. As soon as Barnabas saw the potential for spreading the Gospel in Antioch, he went and found Paul, and brought him to join the ministry (Acts 11:25). Barnabas could see Paul’s gifts and wanted them to be put to work for God. None of us are pure self-starters. It usually takes someone like Barnabas to recognize the gifts God has given us, and encourage us to use them to advance the Gospel (the name “Barnabas” literally means, “encourager”).
I think one of the greatest examples of how to truly enable evangelization comes in the somewhat mysterious and somewhat sad split between Barnabas and Paul. In Acts 15:39, we learn that Barnabas and Paul decide to end their missionary partnership, and spread the Gospel separately, due to a dispute over a certain assistant named John Mark. How does this happen? Does one of them feel threatened and undermine the work of the other? Does either renounce the call to evangelize? Not at all! They simply part ways and both Paul and Barnabas continue to spread the same Gospel with a new disciple partner. It’s a moment of sadness, but also a moment of faith in continuing the mission of the Church. Paul and Barnabas separate, but each remain united to the Church and committed to unity for the sake of the Gospel message. They trust in the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit, that somehow God can accomplish more through their new partnerships. Neither allows personal pride, competitiveness, or an individual agenda to get in the way of evangelization. Both men enable evangelization, even when their friendship is tested.
I love that we celebrate feasts honoring Paul and Barnabas in the same month. It’s a fitting reminder of the importance of being a Barnabas–being open to the charisms and gifts of others, making sure those gifts don’t get left out of the evangelizing mission of the Church, and ensuring that personal disputes never stop evangelizers from sharing the Gospel.
a version of this post previously appeared at newevangelizers.com