It took me only a moment to realize that today is June11, the feast-day of St Barnabas, who ranks up there with Paul, John the Baptist and Ignatius of Loyola, as far as I'm concerned. St Luke seems to have the same assessment: Barnabas is described in the Acts of the Apostles in terms that would otherwise seem to apply only to the Church at large: "good", "filled with the Holy Spirit and faith"; able to "see the grace of God". This is the Apostle Paul's mentor, for crying out loud!
And that is what I find most heroic about Barnabas. In his ability to "see the grace of God," Barnabas could look at the recently converted Saul, and know: "This man is a chosen instrument...to bring the Name before Gentiles and Kings." He vouched for Saul before the entire Jerusalem community, and years later when he "saw the grace of God" in Antioch (where Gentiles were joining the Church in such numbers that the Jewish quality of the community seemed to be diluted), it was Barnabas who undertook the sea voyage to Tarsus, "to look for Saul" and bring him to that cosmopolitan city, third largest in the Roman Empire, where his talents could be used "to bring the Name before Gentiles."
There must have been a reason that the people of Lyconia, witnessing the Apostles Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, presumed that Barnabas was Zeus, the King of Olympus. He was clearly the leader of the little mission team, even as Paul (or was it Hermes?) did all the talking. And yet it was on this trip that the protege, the "least of the Apostles," began to outpace his noble mentor.
Like John the Baptist, Barnabas was willing to "decrease" that the one coming after him might "increase." That has got to be the most heroic thing about both of those great men.