A Patron Saint for a Good Argument
Is there a patron saint of arguing? No, not officially, but if there was one, St. Barnabas would be in the running. One of the most common things brought to the confessional is the “sin” of arguing: arguing with one’s spouse, kids, co-workers, friends, neighbors, etc.
It is important to note that arguing in and of itself is not a sin, but it sure opens us up to the potential of sin. When we argue, we often have inflamed tempers, which can easily make us say or do sinful things. But sometimes arguing can be a good thing. When I have married couples or engaged couples tell me that they never argue, that is a bit of a red flag for me, because often it means there are feelings or opinions that are being stifled, and that is never good. Arguing can happen in which there is a healthy exchange without there being sinful words or actions. That might be difficult to do when emotions are high, but it can be done.
Sometimes an argument can actually have very good consequences, and that is certainly the case when it comes to St. Barnabas. St. Barnabas, whose original name was Joseph, was renamed by the apostles as Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement,” which probably implies that he had a cheerful, outgoing personality. He was a Levite of Cypriot origin and most famously known as St. Paul’s companion on his missionary journeys.
It was Barnabas who went to Tarsus to fetch Paul, who had been there for some time after his conversion, bringing him to Antioch, where according to Acts of the Apostles they spent a year together preaching and teaching the Gospel. In Antioch, a collection was taken up for the Christians in Jerusalem who had been suffering from a drought, and Barnabas and Paul were chosen to deliver the money. It was there that they met John Mark, a young man who then joined them on their missionary journey. John Mark, who many scholars believe is Mark, the author of the Gospel, did not last long on the missionary journey. He left them early and went back to Jerusalem. Though we do not know the reason for sure, the speculation is that in his youth he had become somewhat homesick.
After Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem, there was an argument, and likely a pretty bad argument between the two of them concerning John Mark. John Mark wanted to join the two on another missionary journey, but Paul was having none of it. Paul was apparently very frustrated with John Mark’s early exit from the last missionary journey and did not want him to join the group again. Barnabas, on the other hand, wanted to give John Mark another chance. The argument must have been severe enough, because it caused a split between Paul and Barnabus going their separate ways.
Now there may very well have been some sinful aspects to their fallout, but we know that it bore fruit, because two highly successful missionary teams were formed out of the argument. Sometimes an argument can have positive results.
As already mentioned, arguing itself is not sinful, but it can easily become sinful. And the worst sort of outcome from an argument is a permanently severed relationship. If the relationship is permanently severed, you can bet that at least one of the parties refuses to forgive the other. That is sinful; in fact it could be deadly sinful. If we refuse to forgive someone for a past hurt, even if the pain inflicted was bad, if we refuse to forgive, then neither will God forgive us. And if God does not forgive us, we are up the proverbial creek.
Jesus makes the importance of reconciliation pretty clear when he says, “If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
The oldest non-scriptural Christian text is a document known as The Didache, also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.” It speaks even more forcefully about the need to reconcile. “If anyone has a quarrel with his neighbor, that person should not join you (at the Eucharist) until he has been reconciled. Your sacrifice must not be defiled.”
So the point is this. Arguing is not necessarily always a bad thing—see St. Barnabas. But if there is an argument, then there must be reconciliation. It is a must for Christians. If you are in such a situation, and you reach out to bring forth the reconciliation without the other party willing it, the sin is his or hers; unwillingness to forgive is a deadly sin.