May 6, 2010
Mark Twain once said, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” With this tongue-in-cheek remark, he expressed the truth that, when someone is good, their goodness challenges us to do better. Such is the case of Barnabas, companion of St. Paul and cousin of St. Mark.
Along with the Twelve chosen by the Lord in his public ministry, Barnabas was one of the most esteemed believers of the first generation of Christians. St. Luke, the author of Acts, breaks his normal style of reserve in speaking of the first Christians. He praises Barnabas with fondness by saying that “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). Barnabas stands out as the paradigm for preaching the gospel and living the Christian life.
Following the example of Jesus himself who gave Simon the new name Kephas, which means ‘Peter’ or ‘Rock,’ and James and John the new name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder,’ the apostles in Jerusalem gave Barnabas his new name. He was known from birth as Joseph, but they called him Barnabas, which means ‘son of encouragement.’ The Greek word
paraklesis (encouragement) in Acts 4:37 carries the idea of support and defense in times of need, as well as consolation in a moment of rescue. The name ‘son of encouragement’ suits Barnabas well. He did what he could to rescue others from material and spiritual need. He proved a great support to the apostles, especially to Paul, in the defense of the faith.
We should not be surprised that St. Luke introduces us to Barnabas by telling us how Barnabas put his money at the disposition of the apostles for the good of others. Money matters. Without money, no food, no shelter, no clothes, no works of charity! The early Church required money to support the needy and to carry on her mission. The Church today needs money for her works of charity and for her very mission. Parishes need money to serve the faithful. Schools and hospitals cannot operate on good will alone. Soup kitchens, rehabilitation centers, homes for those in need require financial resources. Lamentably, the numerous good works that the Church has been able to do in the past are now being restricted because, despite the generosity of many, we lack sufficient funds to meet growing needs.
St. Luke knew quite well how finances are related to faith. In his gospel, he relates to us Jesus’ parables that speak of money: the Two Debtors (7:41-43); the Good Samaritan (10:29-37); the Rich Fool (12:16-31); the Unjust Steward (16:1-8); the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31) and the Pounds (19:11-27). Except for the Parable of the Pounds, Luke is the only evangelist to recount all these parables that deal with money. He recognizes not only that we need to deal with money to live, but we need to use money in the proper way according to our faith. Even in his second work, the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke spends a considerable amount of time on financial matters.
When Luke introduces Barnabas for the first time as the individual who sold his property and gave the proceeds for the needs of the Church, he goes straight to the heart of this goodness. Barnabas is charitable. Without even a request from others, he sells his property, takes the money and puts “it at the feet of the apostles” (Acts 3:37). What generosity! What humility! He lets the Church, under the leadership of the apostles, direct the use of his gift. His charity is not calculated and conditioned on what he thinks is necessary. He lets the apostles dispose of his charity to others.
Barnabas is a giver. He understands that the heart of the gospel is sharing, sharing the good news and sharing the good things of this world. Why? To follow Jesus means to become like him who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). To give is the active verb that characterizes the life of Jesus. It is the verb that describes best the life of his disciples. Following Jesus turns us into true givers. Eventually, our checkbooks tell how much of a giver we have become.
Many people today are very generous. They gladly support those charitable groups that help the needy in so many ways. Our diocese is blessed by the kindness and continued support of such good people, even in times of economic difficulty.
Recently, our Catholic Charities, one of our parishes and the diocese itself received a bequest from a widow who lived in one of our city parishes. I knew her personally for some years. She was a woman of great faith. She lived a very simple life. I was deeply moved when I was told that she had willed to the Church whatever money she had left behind. Here is a believer who did what she could for the good of others in a way suitable to her life. In her decision to make this bequest in her will before the Lord called her home, she took to heart the good example of Barnabas.
There are, indeed, many different ways of giving. Leaving a bequest in one’s will is an attractive option for many very generous people who support the Church in her mission. In our diocese, we have a way to help anyone interested in such a gift. It is called
The Barnabas Legacy Society. Because of the generosity of Barnabas, many people came to the faith. His is a legacy to continue.
By the example of St. Barnabas and with his prayers of intercession, may the Church grow in our day so that others come to know the wealth of God’s love.