Today’s reading from Acts of the Apostles (Acts 11: 19-26) describes the beginning of Paul’s work as missionary to the gentiles. He was sponsored by Barnabas.
After his dramatic conversion, Paul preached in Damascus, but was forced out of the city and returned to Jerusalem, but the disciples of Jesus there received him warily. They “were all afraid of Paul” because he persecuted the followers of Jesus. Barnabas believed in him and “took charge of him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9, 26-30) He gained acceptance for Paul.
Later, as great numbers came to believe in Antioch, Barnabas was sent there by the Jerusalem church. Convinced the Spirit was at work, Barnabas went to Tarsus to get Paul. Together they spent a whole year teaching a large number of people. (Act 11, 26) Barnabas was the first to recognize Paul’s gifts.
Then, commissioned by the church at Antioch, Barnabas and Paul went to bring the gospel to other places. Their missionary journey took them to Cyprus (Barnabas’ birthplace) and a number of cities in Asia Minor. They preached in Jewish synagogues with mixed results, but increasingly gentile hearers accepted their message.
The Acts of the Apostles highlights Paul’s preaching, but the ministry involved the two of them. Barnabas, in fact, is initially mentioned before Paul .“They appointed presbyters … in each church” and returned to Antioch. (Acts 14, 21-23)
A dispute arose between them: “After some time, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us make a return visit to see how the brothers are getting on in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord.’ Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark, but Paul refused to take him, because he deserted them at Pamphylia. So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and traveled through Syria and Cilicia “bringing strength to the churches.” Acts 15, 36-41
Why “sharp disagreement?” Two strong personalities can’t get along? Paul’s vision against Barnabas’ vision? A clash like this reminds us that God’s plan advances even as humans disagree.
I also find it strange that Paul never mentions Barnabas in his later descriptions of his work. Barnabas, humanly speaking, got him his start.