Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

11 June 2008 Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle
Acts 11: 21-26, 12: 1-3

Today we hear of another apostle, Barnabas who was first to welcome St. Paul (a former persecutor) into the church in Antioch. With the community in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas worked together to build the community there. Hence, in was in Antioch that we were first called Christians. The Acts of the Apostles describes Barnabas as a ‘good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit’. He was born in Cyprus and died in Salamis in the 1st century. His Jewish parents called him, Joseph, but after selling all his property and joining the apostles in Jerusalem, he got a new name: Barnabas, meaning “a man of encouragement” or a ‘son of consolation.” His name tells us about what he was. He encouraged the early Christians in Jerusalem that Paul had already converted and was now a believer of Jesus (Acts 9, 26-30). In the first reading, Barnabas came to Antioch because there were believers there. And when Jerusalem was in famine, Barnabas with Paul brought the donations from Antioch there. Indeed, Barnabas was a man with a big heart. With Paul and Barnabas, the early Church expanded to include the many Gentile communities who became believers.

In our lives, we all had feelings of weakness and weariness --- none of us like these circumstances. We do not enjoy such experiences. These periods of helplessness, powerlessness and vulnerability have removed all our strengths that we have been prone to despair and self-pity. In the midst of these real experiences, the culture that we live in aggravates the matter. We grew up in a culture where criticism is the rule. We have been traumatize by criticism. Even if we grew up in a very encouraging family, the world outside of our homes do not have encouragement as a way of life.

When we encourage, we do not have to be gushing about another. Or to be too patronizing. Encouragement is a sincere affirmation. When we criticize, we look for what is negative and express it in some way such as talking to the person, a group or creating something artistic such as a write-up to express our negative feelings whether it is what we see inside of us (as self-critique) or see outside of us. On the other hand, encouragement is seeing what is positive and good and expressing it in some similar way as criticism. Criticism is the fastest way to stop another person from doing wrong; encouragement is the fastest way to make another person expand their good work.

When Barnabas told the Christian community that Paul had already converted, he was saying that they should see Paul’s goodness despite his unfortunate history with Christian persecution. Barnabas saw something good in Paul that his encouragement made Paul what we know about him now. His encouragement built Paul. That to me is the presence of the Holy Spirit in Barnabas. The Holy Spirit allowed Barnabas to see Paul’s potential.

Encouragement is remembering. You see, when a good thing has happened like a little improvement or a small change, when we express them as words of encouragement, the little development becomes fix in the mind of the listener, and thus the likelihood of repeated success becomes greater. It makes a person take the next step to a new additional process of growth.

Barnabas did the same thing. He encourages and thus he build communities of faith. We are built by a culture of trust and of consolation. I believe we must begin a culture of positive reinforcement. With encouragement, we seek what is more. In criticism, when we have fulfilled the minimum, we are fine. After all, we were made, not destroy, but to build people.

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