When he [Paul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. -- Acts 9:26-27
His name originally was Joseph. He was born on Cyprus and was a Levite, one of the priestly class. He was considered to be almost an apostle by the people who knew him and his work, and was given the name Barnabas which meant "son of encouragement" because of his gift of oratory.
A rich man, he was among those who sold all that he had and gave it to the apostles as a token of his dedication and obedience. Beyond that we don't know a lot about his life, although we know of his experiences.
I believe Barnabas should be called the patron saint of second chances. He introduced Paul to Peter and the apostles. Because of Paul's previous persecution of the Christians, the apostles were leery of meeting him; Barnabas, however, stood as his reference and as a bridge to acceptance. Later, he and Paul undertook a mission to preach to the Gentiles in Antioch. The mission was so successful that the two were sent back to Jerusalem to present a much-needed contribution to the struggling church.
They worked together well but there were differences between them. After leaving Jerusalem a second time, following agreement about circumcision of the gentiles, Paul wanted to go visit the already-established churches while Barnabas was of another mind. He wanted to take John Mark with them as they had previously. Paul, remembering that John Mark had bailed out on them on a previous journey, refused. Paul finally left with Silas for Syria, while Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus. Barnabas gave John Mark a second chance and it paid off.
After that we don't know much about Barnabas. He appeared to be still living when Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul's words (vss. 9:5-6), written somewhere around 56-7 CE, indicated that the breach between Paul and Barnabas had been repaired and also that Paul had made peace with John Mark who, after Barnabas' death, became Paul's disciple during his imprisonment in Rome.
Barnabas was a man who apparently believed in second chances. Not just once, but twice he spoke up for those in need of a second chance. It seems like he would have been a great person to have around, not just with his gift of oratory or for his value as a disciple, but as a kind of peacemaker, a bridge builder. Heaven knows, we need a few more of those in this world. But where are we going to find them?
There are some people we could think of as bridge builders, people willing to give even enemies a second chance to patch the differences. Desmond Tutu, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, gave victims a second chance. Never before had they had the chance to speak to those who had harmed the and give their personal impact statements. It also gave the oppressors an opportunity to hear the stories of their victims and to repent. It was certainly a landmark event. Many were repentant and even more were forgiving.
Former president Jimmy, at over 90 years of age, still continues to bridge the gap between rich and poor, first-world and third-world communities. Helping to build houses for the poor through Habitat for Humanity, he also serves as a peacemaker and activist, a supporter of the rights of women and children, and whose foundations help search for cures for diseases. These causes help those around the world in places where they are otherwise voiceless. Who says one person can't make a difference.
There are so many others we hear about and many, many more that we don't. But the thing is that giving others a second chance is a Jesus thing. Whether the fault was with them in the first place, or whether it was because of things beyond their control, they deserve a second chance. Give people second chances, and, with great expectation and hope, those people who are helped are able to turn their lives around and often pay it forward.
Everyone needs second chances from time to time. We need them when we hurt other people, which is why we not only must apologize for the hurt, but so we can to repair the breach. We may make a mistake, and we need a second chance to start over, using what we've learned to avoid making another mistake of the same nature.
We are often skeptical about giving second chances to people who have been imprisoned, addicts, prostitutes, or any one of hundreds of things we fear, disapprove of, or feel scandalized by. Barnabas would probably come to their defense and help them turn themselves around. We want second chances for ourselves but not always for others. It's almost too bad we don't follow in the footprints of Jesus that Barnabas did. After all, Jesus set the standard.
Jesus believed in second chances like the woman by the well; he knew what she had done yet gave her a second chance and she became his first evangelist. Jarius's daughter, the woman with the hemorrhage, the centurion's slave, Lazarus--all of these represented people being given a second chance. To those surrounding the receivers Jesus gave the opportunity to turn from unbelief to belief, from the feeling of being lost to one of being found, recognized, and set on a new course. Mistakes happen, errors happen, but there should always be an opportunity for a Barnabas to be around.
We all make mistakes. We all want forgiveness. At times we all need a Barnabas to stand with us and to help us to reestablish ourselves. We also have friends who, God willing, are the kind of friends who will do just that. Hopefully, we have family who will see that we have done but also see the person they knew and loved, even though now they look at someone who has done something horrible.
So who can I give a second chance to today, this week, this year? Jesus and Barnabas would probably be the first to step up and say "Here's one; we stand by them. Go find others."
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, June 11, 2016.