After the big dust-up with the controversy concerning Gentiles coming into the church, Paul made a proposal to Barnabas. What that proposal entailed and what became of it are two issues worth considering.
First, let’s look at the proposal itself. Paul and Barnabas had started several churches in several different towns. They went into a town, usually went to the synagogue to preach and present the Good News, and used that as a base to reach others in the town with the Message. The synagogue was a great place to start for other reasons besides sentimental ones (an attachment to one’s fellow Jews). Any city or town could establish a synagogue if there were ten Jewish males. It'd be pretty rare, however, for a rabbi to take up residence and teach on a regular basis. Therefore, the Jews and God-fearers in attendance would welcome itinerant preachers/teachers to serve on the Sabbath as a guest speaker. As well-trained in the Law as Paul was, he'd be very attractive as a guest speaker—unless and until there were Jews from other towns to oppose him and stir up trouble. As some of the Jews and God-fearers became believers, they would be the best option for approaching the pagans in town.
It should be noted at this point that Paul was not a “hit and run” evangelist. He usually stayed about 2-3 years in a town (if possible) in order to get the church firmly established before they left. They'd appoint leaders and make sure they had at least the rudiments of basic apostolic doctrine down.
Now Paul wanted to return to some of their church plants and check up on them. There’s one word that comes to my mind when I read this: Accountability. He wanted to check on them to make sure they were staying true to the Good News, that they were abiding by the decision of the Jerusalem Council’s decision, and to take care of any other spiritual need. Most importantly, he wanted to make sure they were growing in their faith and becoming more mature in Christ. In order to be accountable, there has to be a system in place for checking up on someone. That’s the essence of making disciples. This followed the pattern set by the Master: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” Let me repeat—Accountability is an essential aspect of discipleship.
Now we come to the less than pleasant aspect of today’s passage. Barnabas replied to Paul’s proposal with enthusiasm, but there was a catch. Just like last time, Barnabas wanted to take along his cousin John Mark. Paul insisted that they not take Mark along this time; Mark had left--Paul probably would've characterized it as “abandoned”--them on an earlier missions trip. Paul didn’t consider Mark reliable. I can understand the thought process: "The Mission is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing. It’s much more important than my own life, so it’s even more important than some kid’s feelings. We can’t let the mission depend on undependable people. The fact that he’s your dear cousin doesn’t change anything I’ve just said."
Barnabas understandably stood by his cousin. I can see his thought process as well: Yes, he did a horrible thing by abandoning us before. But he’s repented of it, and he deserves a second chance. He was pretty flaky before, but I see a lot of potential in him.
To be totally frank, I’m of two minds concerning their dispute. I can actually see both sides, and I don’t think either man was completely wrong. Yes, the mission was all-important. On the other hand, Barnabas had a history of seeing “diamonds in the rough” and standing up for them while others were reluctant to accept them. Remember, he'd done this for Paul. Despite Paul’s history and others’ reluctance to forget that, Barnabas had vouched for him and brought him into the inner circle.
As it turned out, his vision of Mark’s potential was spot-on. Church tradition states (and there’s no reason to dispute it) that this is the same guy who collected the teachings of Peter into what we know as Mark’s Gospel. Yes, that Gospel. And at the end of his life, Paul was apparently reconciled to him. In the final days before his execution, Paul asked specifically to have Mark by his side.
What can we learn from this? Your past doesn’t have to define your future unless you let it. And don’t be too quick to write off that person who made a mistake and even let you down. Could be you’re discarding a diamond in the rough who needs someone to believe in him.
Father God, is there someone around me who needs that? You’ve done it for me. You’ve demonstrated over and over in my life that you’re the God of second chances. Can I pass that along to anyone?