Today’s saint sends us back to the Acts of the Apostles. St. Barnabas was born in Cyprus of a Jewish family. He was of the Tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel, and thus, it sounds as though he spent a lot of time travelling to Jerusalem to assist in the Temple duties. He was the cousin of St. Mark the Evangelist, and worked frequently with him throughout his ministry. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he converted to Christianity after Pentecost, and sold all his property, giving the money to the Church to help the poor. St. Barnabas is considered to be ranked among the Apostles, but not one of them, similar to St. Paul, and indeed, he was esteemed as the greatest Christian of the first generation aside from St. Paul and the Apostles. St. Luke, who is usually pretty reserved, gushed about him in the Acts of the Apostles, saying that he was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”
St. Barnabas spent much of his ministry as a companion to St. Paul, and in fact, when many people didn’t believe that St. Paul’s conversion was authentic, Barnabas stood as his sponsor. I guess that makes him the first RCIA sponsor or the first godparent! With Paul, he worked in preaching to the gentiles in Antioch, then moved on to Cyprus, then Asia Minor. It seems that his preaching was so eloquent that the Greek people in Asia Minor were trying to sacrifice bulls to him – they thought St. Paul was Hermes and St. Barnabas was Zeus! St. Barnabas was present at the Council of Jerusalem, where he lobbied for a dispensation of circumcision and dietary laws for the gentiles he was preaching to. So thank St. Barnabas the next time you eat bacon!
Not much is known about St. Barnabas after the Scriptural references in St. Paul’s letters and the Acts of the Apostles. Some stories have him as the first Bishop of Milan. Others have him preaching in Alexandria, and others Rome, where he supposedly converted St. Clement, who as you recall from a previous article, was the fourth pope. Some Early Christian Fathers say that he wrote a document called the Epistle of Barnabas, but evidence suggests that it was written a century later by some quasi-Christian factions. The document is very harsh on Jews, which seems odd, given that he had been a Jew (and a Levite at that!), and it is no wonder this document was not included among the inspired texts of the New Testament.
Traditions hold that he was martyred in Cyprus, his native country. The story is that he was attacked by Jewish leaders who were annoyed and jealous of his success as he was preaching in their synagogues. He was stoned to death by the crowds, bearing witness to Christ. His cousin Mark was present for his martyrdom, and buried his body there. Today, St. Barnabas is considered the patron of Cyprus (of course), peacemakers, and is invoked against hailstorms. So there you go.
See you next week as we head back to the Early Church Fathers!