The National Catholic Review
It is in the Acts of the Apostles that we hear most about Barnabas. He is famous as a preaching companion with Paul in present-day Turkey, with all the attendant success, failure and persecution of Paul. Prior to that, he was grouped with Christians at Antioch who were known as having special gifts, that of prophecy and that of teaching. Luke goes out of his way to underline the particular influence the Holy Spirit had on Barnabas, whether in the church in Antioch or in his mission to preach Christ. It is likely that he was one of the teachers from whom Paul learned so much of his Christian thinking in Antioch. Given his experiences of the Gentiles won over to Christ through the preaching inspired by Holy Spirit, Barnabas played an important role in Jerusalem, when he supported the decision that the Gentile Christians need not, for salvation, be circumcized and made to keep the entire Law of Moses. Before he was a Christian,an adult convert, he was a Jewish Levite named Joseph; it was the Apostles who called him ’Barnabas’. As Levite, he, who was from the island of Cyprus, fulfilled his obligation to assist in a formal way at the daily worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. His work was liturgical in nature: Levites formed the choirs and performed the religious music at the morning and afternoon solemn services to honor God. Since any one Levite ’worked’ only eight weeks a year at the Temple, Joseph must have had a year-round work to provide him with money to support himself and whatever family he had. At a time when the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem lived as fully as possible the ideal of having ’no one among them in need’, Barnabas, né Joseph, sold a field he owned and allowed for the distribution of its income appositely, so that ’no one was in need’. Barnabas must have been a most affable, winning personality, for it was left to him to convince many Jewish Christians that the persecutor Paul had honestly become a believer in Christ, like themselves. For all the above, we know only snatches, albeit important snatches, of a life in search of God. In a book dedicated to tracing the witness to Jesus from Jerusalem to Rome, Luke easily fixed on Barnabas. His preaching, yes, and his gifts from the Spirit, but also a man who made sure, as far as he could, that ’no one was left in need’. Not bad to be remembered this way. John Kilgallen, SJ