On the feast of St. Barnabas

Barnabas and Paul Icon

I have always loved Barnabas. Did you know his name is actually Joseph? Barnabas is his nickname, given to him by the apostles. It means "Son of Encouragement." And it couldn't be more apt.

It was Barnabas who vouched for the hot-headed young convert, Saul, to the apostles in Jerusalem, when the disciples there "were all afraid of him, for they did not believe he was a disciple." 

It was Barnabas who first went to Antioch to tell the new church there to remain faithful, and then decided the best thing to do would be to bring in Saul from Tarsus to teach the church along with him.

It was Barnabas who went with now-Paul and the young man John Mark on the first missionary journey. And when John Mark deserted the mission, it was Barnabas who gave him a second opportunity, even though it meant disagreeing (sharply, Acts laconically says) with Paul to the point where they went their separate ways.

Which says to me that Barnabas is someone who is more interested in giving someone a second chance than in picking the most qualified candidate. He's interested in bringing people along.  What he is looking for in a co-worker is someone raw but eager, untested, with a few rough edges; someone who will try, and perhaps fail, but then try again.

Barnabas is by his very nature a mentor. Well, actually, I'm not sure that's right. Mentor (which is also, after all, the name of a person) was responsible for educating his charge, Telemachus; Barnabas is more interested in being a companion. Athena impersonates Mentor to give young Telemachus advice on what to do. Barnabas has only himself to offer, and seeks out new people with whom to share his authority.

Maybe, instead of mentoring, we need to be barnabasing.

I don't think that's going to be easy. Mentoring has this going for it: I, the older, wiser person who knows, will give you the benefit of my wisdom and advice, for you are young, naive, and uninformed. Barnabasing does something different: it encourages the church to listen to the newbies, the outsiders, the iffy prospects. Barnabasing takes chances and risks conflict and failure. Barnabasing says, "I believe in this one. Give this new disciple an opportunity to shine." 

For those of us who have a place of leadership in the church, Barnabas offers a real challenge: are we going to share? Do we see potential and invest in it? Are we going to find new people and give them authority to teach and to lead? Are we going to give people second chances? Are we going to risk upsetting those now in charge by bringing in someone new, perhaps young, perhaps not quite ready?

Who will you barnabas?