Son of Encouragement

Posted in: Homilies

April 29, 2018 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

April 29, 2018
Acts 9:26-31
Fr. George Smiga

The apostle Paul is one of the great saints of the Christian tradition. Some of you might remember that before Paul became a Christian, he persecuted the early church. When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul made a 180-degree turn. Instead of persecuting the church, he now was called to proclaim its gospel. But Paul’s history of persecuting the church was not so easily erased. We see this in today’s first reading from the Book of Acts. Paul comes to Jerusalem and wants to join the Christian community there. But the Christians in Jerusalem remember his persecution and are afraid of him. They will not let him in. What good is it to be an apostle of the church, if the church does not trust you? Paul’s mission was clearly threatened by his past.

It is then that Barnabas steps in. Barnabas was a trusted member of the Jerusalem community. He stood up for Paul. The text says he “took charge” of Paul. The name Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas took Paul to the apostles, explained to them his story, and encouraged them to accept him. They did, and the rest is history. But it is likely that if Barnabas had not interceded, Paul would not have become the great apostle he was meant to be.

So why did Barnabas step in to support Paul? He saw in Paul a gift, a gift of preaching, a gift of believing, a gift of serving. Barnabas believed that that gift came from God and it was meant to be shared. Now if Barnabas had been a jealous or competitive person, he would not have helped Paul. He would have been afraid that Paul’s gift would be greater than his own, that Paul’s career would outshine his own. But Barnabas was not jealous or competitive. His only concern was to see that the gifts that God had given would be effective. The gospel needed to be preached, and he knew that Paul could do it.

This experience of Barnabas leaves us with two questions: Who has been a Barnabas to us, and how can we be a Barnabas to others? Who are the people in our lives who have encouraged us in a serious way? A parent or a grandparent who told us that we were good. A teacher that convinced us we had talent. A friend or perhaps even a passing acquaintance who helped us land our first job or who introduced us to people who could get things done. The experience of Barnabas reminds us that none of us have become the people that we are simply on our own. We have grown and we have become successful because of those who have encouraged and supported us. For this we should always be thankful.

We should also ask, “How can I be a Barnabas to others?” Is there a talent we see in a child or a grandchild that is real and needs to be encouraged? Do we know of someone who is imprisoned by addiction or depression? What can we do to help set them free? Are there people at work struggling to get on their feet? Can we support their gifts and let them be recognized? Of course, to do any of these things we, like Barnabas, cannot be jealous or competitive. Our concern should be only that the gifts that God has given should not be wasted.

Today almost every Christian knows the name of Paul, but only a handful would recognize the name Barnabas. This is because the career of Paul did in fact outshine that of the “Son of Encouragement.” But I am convinced that Barnabas from his place in heaven doesn’t care about that at all. Every time a Christian reads from one of the letters of Paul, every time a Christian is inspired by Paul’s mission, Barnabas takes satisfaction in knowing that he used his influence to make Paul successful. For Barnabas it is not important that people know his name. It is only important that God’s gifts are shared and the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed.

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