Joseph the Levite believed in second chances. The apostles called him Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement.”
When missionaries from Cyrene and Joseph’s native Cyprus made many conversions in Antioch,
…the church at Jerusalem…sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord (Acts 11:22-23).
When Paul returned to Jerusalem after his dramatic conversion experience on the Damascus Road, the apostles gave him a wide berth (Acts 9:26). After all, Paul had persecuted the early Christians with ferocious zeal, so it was natural that the Jerusalem Christians were wary of him.
But Barnabas, who had spent a year with Paul in Antioch after Paul’s narrow escape from Damascus (Acts 9:23-25), urged the church there to give Paul a second chance.
When the Holy Spirit commissioned Paul and Barnabas to go to Cyprus, they took with them a young man called John Mark. Midway through the mission, John Mark, for unexplained reasons, returned to Jerusalem.
After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated (Acts 15:36-39).
Barnabas, willing to give John Mark a second chance, set off with him for Cyprus, whilst Paul chose Silas to accompany him to Syria.
At the time of Paul’s missionary journeys, the Gospels had not yet been written. If they had, Paul may have had the opportunity to read Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, in which a rich man forgave his servant a debt of ten talents of gold. A single talent of gold was about 20 years wages for a day laborer, so the master knew that, despite all his subordinate’s promises, he could never repay such a stupendous debt. So in response to his debtor’s pleas for mercy, he dismissed the debt entirely.
Almost immediately, the forgiven man encountered a fellow servant who owed him 100 silver denarii—each worth about a single day’s wages for a day laborer. Grabbing him by the throat, he demanded full and immediate payment. But in response to his colleague’s pleas for patience, he had the wretched man sent to debtors’ prison.
When the two servants’ master heard of this, he sent for the unmerciful servant and confronted him about his ingratitude.
‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (Matthew 18:32b-34).
Paul’s sins against the church before his conversion certainly outweighed John Mark’s bailing on him during a missionary journey, perhaps even by as much as 200 years’ wages outweigh a hundred days’ wages. But even Barnabas, the son of encouragement, couldn’t prevail upon him to give the young man a second chance. Eventually, even Paul came to describe him as a valuable assistant (2 Timothy 4:11; Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24).
Everyone deserves a second chance.