One of my favorite things about St. Barnabas, whose feast day we commemorate on Monday (transferred from Sunday), is that his name means “son of encouragement.” It is particularly notable, because Barnabas started out life in Cyprus with the name Joseph. We learn in chapter four of the Acts of the Apostles that he was so impacted by the preaching of the gospel that he sold a field that he owned and turned over all the proceeds to the apostles. It was those apostles who began to call him Barnabas.
And as Acts continues, we learn more about his gift of encouragement, and thus how apt his new moniker was. He was in Jerusalem when Paul, after his blinding insight on the road to Damascus, arrived to connect with Jesus’ apostles. They initially wanted nothing to do with him — after all, not that long ago when he was still named Saul, he had been persecuting the nascent church. (Paul too knew a little something about the power of a name change!) Barnabas, though, was open to hearing what Paul had to say, and he ended up speaking on his behalf to the other disciples.
Paul and Barnabas got along so well that they ended up traveling and evangelizing together. Although the disciple Mark went with them at first, he at some point he turned around and went home. Paul felt that as a result, Mark was undependable, and didn’t want to travel with him again. Barnabas, though, gave Mark a second chance, and the two of them took their own journey together. That time of encouragement might have been just what Mark needed, because Paul later found him to be a valuable companion. (Thanks to James Kiefer’s hagiographies from which I drew this summary! http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/home.html.)
I wonder if the gift of encouragement is overlooked today in our church and in our world. We may think that glory and success and status come from doing things on our own, rather than helping others. But it is an amazing thing to encourage another, and then see them blossom and grow. May you find someone to encourage today!