Son of Encouragement

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In our first reading, we heard about a gentleman named Barnabas who was an important person to the foundation of the early Church and the spread of the gospel. He is mentioned fairly often in the Acts of the Apostles, in several of Paul's letters and is honored with the title 'Apostle'.

Barnabas was born in Cyprus. His given name was Joseph; the apostles gave him the Hebrew name Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement," in honor of his work in the Church. Born into a Jewish family living outside of Palestine, he also spoke Greek. He may have been in the company of disciples who travelled with Jesus. If he did not know Jesus before the crucifixion, Barnabas heard the apostles' preaching very soon after Pentecost.

Barnabas believed in the power of the gospel message to change people's hearts. He was the one who persuaded the apostles and the church in Jerusalem that Paul had been converted from a persecutor to an apostle.

He was sent by the apostles to go to the church at Antioch and he chose Paul to go with him. Barnabas was one of the first to understand that the mission of the church was universal, so he and Paul decided to preach the gospel for the first time to Gentiles, rather than only to Jews. They maintained strongly that Gentile converts did not have to follow all the Jewish customs. This decision to preach to the Gentiles also was a turning point in the life of the church.

Barnabas was a Christian with feet in two cultures; he was a bridge between the Greek-speaking converts and the Hebrew speaking Jews who were Jesus' earliest followers. The scripture passage, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3.28), is thought to have begun as a statement of the church at Antioch. Barnabas also gives us a powerful example of openness when he sponsored Paul. Barnabas is truly a reconciler.

Most importantly, he’s an example of what being ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world’ means. When Jesus said these words in our gospel today, he wasn’t telling his followers to be better salt, or brighter light, but, as his followers, to be good salt wherever they went, and a significant light to whomever they met. Barnabas certainly was.

For us, too, these words are meant to inspire us, energize us, and prepare us for our mission.  Being salt and light gives us meaning and purpose, goals and directions.  Today we can renew our spirit, and recommit our energy to the task of bringing the Good News to a broken world.

May we leave here today more aware of being salt of the earth and light for the world to whomever we meet.