Thursday, 13th Week in Ordinary Time          

            “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home.”

            Jesus ministered to the needy and freed them to live with a new hope and purpose. Some he invited to join him as part of his apostolic group. An example of that is Levi (also called Matthew). Others were sent home to get on with their normal lives. An example of that is the paralyzed man in today’s gospel. Both are equally good options. Both are to be qualified by the wonder of faith of those who have been ministered to and by the celebration of what the Lord has done for them.

            One important thing that we have to take note about the ministry of Jesus is that his ministry empowers people. His ministry is not simply meant to make people happy, but to leave them independent. It is also not meant to leave people blessed, but living in a ghetto – that is, living in an isolated way or a segregated place. Jesus’ ministry is meant to free men and women. It is meant to liberate people so that they can get on with life in dignity and strength.

            This is what Jesus did for the paralyzed man in today’s gospel. Jesus brought freedom to this man; he set him free from the bondage of sickness and suffering which bound him in fear, degradation, and isolation. He ordered him: “Stand up! Take your stretcher and go home.” And the man did. Jesus sent him home to stand on his own two feet.

            The greatest ministry that we can exercise is not simply to be charitable to others. It is relatively easy to give to others. It is far more difficult to enable and empower others rather than simply to care for them. It is far more challenging to serve others so that they can determine their own lives than to give them something that fosters dependency. The most significant ministry that we can exercise is to free individuals to live life with dignity, purpose, passion, and risk.

            Indeed, our greatest challenge is to find ways to empower others. Whether marriage partners, children as they come to maturity, companions at home, the poor we minister to. This empowerment does not mean that a Christian becomes self-sufficient. It means that our love, friendship, and expression of care do not become stultifying and stifling. In those acts of caring, we are not to be manipulative but rather seek the well-being, growth, and development of the other even when that may threaten us.

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