Today we honor St. Barnabas, whom the Apostles chose to minister to those Gentiles who wished to join them as followers of Jesus Christ. The name Barnabas literally means “Son of encouragement,” and it was a nickname that stuck with this disciple apostle who was originally called Joseph.
We saw the encouraging ways of Barnabas at work for the sake of St. Mark. Mark had been with Paul and Barnabas at the beginning of their missionary journey, only to leave them out of homesickness. The following year, when Paul and Barnabas headed off on another journey, and Mark wanted to go with them, Paul wouldn’t let a quitter come along. When Barnabas argued for giving the boy another chance, and Paul would have none of it, Paul and Barnabas split up.
The word encouragement literally means “to put heart in someone.”
When Pat Tierney, our diocesan director of education, was retiring after twenty-odd years, the teachers were sorry about her leaving. When I asked several of them why they appreciated her, they said it was because she stood up for them and stood behind them. A teacher who is alone in a classroom with twenty-five kids needs courage, and more than advice she needs someone to encourage her, to put heart in her.
A similar way of giving a boost is restoring hope for someone who has lost it. From Korea I remember a man, defeated by debts and illnesses who came knocking at my door when I was dead broke. He had been carrying on somehow, but that day he had lost all hope, and he came to me in desperation (which literally means without hope.) What could I do? I had no cash, and no influence, but A G.I. had given me a can of peanut butter. I gave it to the man who had lost all hope.
He said, “This is great stuff. It will perk up my dying child.” Hope restored, he went off juggling the peanut butter.