Like many of us I love seeing films and television shows in which multiple action heroes or detective teams are fighting for the same good. Especially when it is a team of two I have always thought that the person who gets the lesser amount of attention is a person who is worth watching, especially when the leader whom they are supporting is getting a lot of ‘press.’ It just seems to me that when someone is so supportive of a person who is getting all the glory when two (or more) are doing the work, the purported ‘sidekick’ deserves a little spotlight of their own. But what makes the sidekick so attractive to me is that they really do not seek glory. Usually they are content to support the star because they are committed to the same cause just as intensely and because they have a deep respect for that person. Another way of saying this is that sidekicks are usually people with a great amount of humility, a great dedication to the cause they are fighting for together with the star, and that they are sure of their vocation of being in the semi-background. In reality, this is the way all Christians should be, putting Christ first and our own fame second. This is why, then, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for St. Barnabas.
It is easy to think of St. Barnabas as only a sidekick to the great St. Paul, but I want to set the record straight for him: Barnabas was a great man in his own right. Without him there may not have been a St. Paul for him to accompany. At first it was Paul who accompanied Barnabas when Barnabas was the only one who believed Paul was the “real deal.” We forget this because of stories about them traveling together with Paul delivering incredible orations which converted hundreds of people in one fell swoop. One such story is when the two of them were in Lystra and the people thought Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes after they healed some poor lame man. I guess since Paul was the fiery preacher they figured he was the messenger of the gods, having not really listened to his preaching and only focusing on the miracle which they thought Barnabas must have wrought as king of the gods. Indeed they missed the point, but worse still, some angry citizens of the last city they were at, Iconium, showed up convinced that they were actually trying to make the people think they were gods. A melee ensued in which Paul was stoned nearly to death, but Barnabas and the others prayed over him and healed him. See what I mean about Barnabas? He was in this equally, yet Paul gets the glory for leading the team.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Paul. I just want to give Barnabas his day in the sun, especially since his feast day is this week. Though he was quickly overshadowed by Paul, it was because of his belief in the giftedness of Paul that he brought Paul to the attention of St. Peter and the other apostles in the first place. Shortly after Paul’s dramatic conversion, a time in which few trusted the man who had hated Christians with such ferocity, Barnabas heard him preach in Jerusalem and was impressed with his potential. Barnabas "took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord ... and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus." (Acts 9:27) Barnabas continued to be a promoter of Paul even after the rest of the inner circle of apostles and presbyters sent Paul away to Tarsus and left him there to languish for years, not wanting much to do with him.
We know Barnabas was very important to the apostles, because it was he whom they sent to Antioch as the church grew so large that they needed some good leadership. In Acts 11:23-14 it says: "When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people were added to the Lord." As soon as he knew the church there was in good hands he left for Tarsus to look for Saul. When he found him he brought him back to Antioch and eventually to Jerusalem after a relief mission which they carried out.
Barnabas stuck his neck out for Paul because he saw his potential. He was a man of great discernment prayer, and wisdom, attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Therefore he knew that he was to take Paul with him to evangelize. So the two set out on their first missionary journey, in which many were converted to the faith. It became clear on that journey that Paul had a special vocation as apostle to the Gentiles, understanding that Jesus was calling them to be part of the Kingdom no less than the Jews. They worked well together. Though Paul's speeches are the ones recorded, we know that Barnabas, too, was a great preacher and a man of prayer who could help Paul on his mission. He was always at Paul's side on that journey, content to let Paul get the spotlight. What mattered most to him was that Jesus was made known, to be glorified and loved. It was always about Jesus, not really about Paul or himself.
Even though they had a famous "falling out" in which they had a heated disagreement as to whether John Mark would accompany them on a second journey, and even though they subsequently parted ways, I cannot imagine that they did not prayerfully consider what was the right thing to do. It seems to me that men of their caliber of faith and discernment would not have let a petty dispute mar a partnership of such success. It seems that God wanted them to go their separate ways for a reason. Both men were important to spreading the word. Perhaps the Spirit felt that now that Paul had attained the spiritual authority he needed, it was best to separate the powerhouses so that they could cover more territory apart rather than together. It also allowed Paul to groom two important men: the young Timothy who eventually took over some churches for Paul, and Luke, the man who would write not only a gospel, but also the Acts of the Apostles. Barnabas would also groom the young man over whom he and Paul disputed who also would write a gospel: Mark. (John Mark) We do not know what happened after they parted, but in the letters of Paul there are a few references to Barnabas and to John Mark. It seems that John Mark was a disciple of Paul once again when Paul was a prisoner in Rome. That would indicate that Barnabas may have been martyred, though there is no evidence of when or where.
I think one of the most important lessons to be learned from St. Barnabas is that we realize that whether we are in the spotlight or are in a secondary capacity each role is important. Sometimes we can get upset or even jealous that we are not getting credit for the things we do. We might feel like our hard work is being overshadowed by someone else, as if our work counts for nothing or that is being relegated to second-class status. It is important that we do not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking this. Everything we do is important when we are working at building the Kingdom, no matter how small or insignificant our actions may seem. And even if we think we are doing really big things for God, (which would beg the humility question) we need to realize that everyone is important in the work of making Jesus known and loved. It is not about us anyway. It is about God.
There is no telling how many people were touched by Barnabas in his day. Just because we do not hear about it does not mean he did nothing compared to Paul. The problem is when we do just that: compare. Both of these men did works that have enormous consequence, and most of it will actually remain unknown to anyone but God. It is the same for you and I. Whatever we are called to, whether it is to be the star or the sidekick, the leader or the secondary figure, our work has enormous impact, most of which we will never know. So let us be content to do that to which we are called, never forgetting that all roles are important to God. And even more than that, all souls are important to God. He values the work of all of us who are trying to build the Kingdom because each member of the Kingdom is His beloved child.
So let us go out and make disciples of all the nations. May we be discerning in our call to serve the Lord! May we be like St. Barnabas, content to work in the role to which we are called, supporting those around us who might have a seemingly more "glamorous" position! May we be faithful to those whom we serve and to those with whom we serve! And may we always find joy in working for the Lord, bringing His love to those we meet in everything we do! Let us meet as companions on the journey in the Heart of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The top icon is St. Barnabas. I found it on a search page and there was no credit. The second icon is St. Barnabas and St. Paul and it is the middle icon of a triptych. It can be found at http://www.pbase.com/image/44642064
The photos are mine, taken at Montauk Point, Long Island.
Heart Speaks to Heart