Friday, July 31, 2009

A Story: Our Good Friend, Barnabas

This is a short story I wrote about one of my favorite characters in the New Testament, Barnabas. It is written from the perspective of John Mark, the writer of one of the four gospels.

Yesterday my good friend, our good friend, was taken away from us. Through a letter, I've learned that outside of Salamis, cruel men took Barnabas and stoned him. The letter told much of what had happened. Barnabas had been preaching in that city about the gospel of Jesus Christ and a group of men from the synagogue in that town accused him of blasphemy. Without even a trial, they stormed into his the home where he was staying before daybreak, pulled him out of bed, not even giving him a chance to put his proper garments on and set him before the council in Salamis. Reminiscent of our Saviour's trial, they would barely let him get a word out and when he tried, they would strike him. Not much else is known after this incident of the trial. They imprisoned him for two days, and then they must have secretly took him outside the city gates and murdered him there. Three days hence, a traveler found his body and brought him back to the city. This man had found him with his face nearly unrecognizable. The only reason they were able to identify his body, was because lying next to him was the writings of Matthew that he had re-written with his own hand. There in Salamis, that small fellowship gave him a proper burial. My heart is broken because my friend is gone.

As I sit here and write, I remember so many good things he did for so many. Barnabas was unlike most men. He was generous and had a great amount of wealth but he shared equally with all. I do not know much about where he came from—I know that he was born into a wealthy family and would often sell a piece of property or offer a generous gift to someone who was in need. He was a person whose word was always true; when he said he would do something for you he would do it whether that meant sharing the Scriptures with you or even one time, I remember, one of the women in our fellowship had been sick for many days, and he went and tended to her children and her chores for those days.

Barnabas loved children. He was a giant of a man and gentle and you would often find children hanging off his big back as he gave them rides as if he was a horse. He loved to be around children, sometimes even more then with others. When we had a gathering, and after the Lord's supper had been shared, we would often not be able to find him. After looking for a while, he would be outside and we would find him playing some game with a handful of children.

Of course, I will never forget him, because in many ways he saved my own life. I had joined Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip-- really I was too young, but I thought I knew everything and that I was invincible. We entered the town of Perga and even after a day we began to be ridiculed because of our message about Jesus. I grew very timid. To be frank, I was terrified. What would they do to us? Both of them had told me stories of others who shared the gospel of beatings or being thrown into jail, but I guess I just didn't really believe that that had happened. Now, when a large group of people had surrounded us and were threatening our lives, my knees grew weak and I vomited all over myself. That seemed to calm the crowd down, but for me, it opened my eyes and I grew cowardly. I wanted to go back home—I didn't want to continue and so I abandoned them both.

It was over six months later that I saw both of them back in Jerusalem. By this time I had felt awful for what I had done. I had learned of their hard work and the dangers that they had faced. I carry tremendous guilt because really I had not deserted them as much as I had forsaken my Savior. I resolved I would never do such a thing as that again. It was a couple months later and Barnabas and Paul had decided to venture again to Cyprus. I wanted so much to show both of them that I could be trusted and so I went to Antioch and asked if I could join them. Paul immediately barked at me that he would never let me go with him again. He reiterated over and over that I had failed them both in my cowardice. I not only jeopardized my own life, but theirs as well. Paul was furious with me for even bringing it up. Barnabas was trying to calm him down with his big but quiet voice, but Paul's strong words continued and he maintained that he would never let me join him again.

Barnabas stared at me. He focused on my face and we locked eyes. Admittingly, it was as if I was in Perga all over again and I was terrified. Why was he staring at me? As he looked at me, his eyes glistened and he turned to Paul and spoke words that I will never forget and ones that haunt me still. “Paul, perhaps you have given up on John Mark. I will not. You take Silas and go to Tarsus. John Mark and I will journey back to Cyprus.” That was it; that was all he said. But his words were solid and strong. I had never heard him speak with such forcefulness and with such conviction. Paul did not say a word, he just nodded twice and as he left the room he placed his right hand on Barnabas’ shoulder. His eyes too began to moisten because he knew that he would never see his friend again.

As we left, we did not speak for a good hour. I knew I needed to give Barnabas some room to think. Now that I much older, I have learned that even though it is good to make sacrifices, it does not take away the sharpness of the pain. I had cost Barnabas his friend and in that silence I seemed to hear him say that it was okay, not maybe good, but okay. Barnabas was a good man, easy to be with even when you were difficult. Through him, for the first time I genuinely was learning forgiveness. Not until now do I understand what that was. I did not deserve a second chance, but forgiveness was at hand, and I accepted it. Because of that, I found the courage to sail to Cyprus the following day.

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