Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
In this passage from the book of Acts, Luke introduces us to Barnabas for the first time. Barnabas is a Levite from Cyprus whose original name is Joseph. However, the apostles call him Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, because of how he acts no doubt. Barnabas is an encourager, a supporter, a giver, someone who raises others up. It is Barnabas, in fact, who recruits Paul and introduces him to the apostles.
Today’s passage gives us a window into the soul of Barnabas. He took a plot of land he owned, sold it, and gave all the proceeds to the apostles. Barnabas didn’t give ten percent of the sale or even fifty percent; he gave all the proceeds to them. He trusted the apostles to use the money as they saw fit for the needs of the church. I imagine this magnanimous nature is what earned him a new name.
This generosity was surely a source of encouragement for the folks who were a part of the early church. Some Christians have a unique gift of encouraging others; Romans 12:8 says encouraging is a spiritual gift. Think about our own development — our abilities and talents, the formation of our character, our successes and failures — so much of how we understand ourselves belongs to those who encouraged us along the way.
For most of us, our parents played that pivotal role when we were young. If we married, then perhaps our spouse became our biggest encourager. When we stop and think of others who have made a lasting impact, teachers, coaches, friends, siblings and mentors all come to mind. None of us gets where we are and reaches our fullest potential without encouragement from others. “Great paper. Keep writing. Don’t stop. I am so proud of you. Keep up the awesome work. Well done. Great job. You have a gift for this.” Think of all the Barnabas-like folks who have been there for us every step of the way. Thank God they were put in our paths.
During these dark days of the pandemic, whom will we encourage? Who needs our support? These times are like the early church. People and institutions are fragile. Be Barnabas for someone.
With the Apostles, Barnabas the Levite,
Shines in the glory won by many labors,
Through the love of Jesus, he despised as nothing
All that he suffered.
Land and possessions he abandoned also,
Charity’s ardor marked his earnest teaching:
Antioch’s converts won the name of Christians,
Proof of their fervor.
Quickly perceiving Paul’s sincere conversion,
Gladly he welcomed such a keen companion,
By divine choosing, many miles they traveled,
Spreading the Gospel.
Tireless and eager, he would spare no effort,
Preaching Christ Jesus by his words and goodness,
‘Til martyr’s glory sealed his never failing
Lord God Almighty, through the intercession
Of your great servant, give us strength to labor
For our salvation, that we may in heaven
Praise you for ever.
(Exultet Orbis Gaudiis, 10th century, translated.)