A Saving Faith – John Foley, SJ

Matthew 16:13-20, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus is roving and curing people. An odd thing happens in each case. He tells them, “Your faith has saved you.”

Quite obviously Jesus does the healing, or they wouldn’t be asking for cures, so why does he say their faith did it? Why didn’t he just say “Go in peace, I have healed you”?

Let us seek the answer in Sunday’s Gospel. I will tell it as a storyteller might.

Jesus is in Caesarea Philippi and the disciples are just back from their mission of preaching. He asks them who people think he is. Maybe he is measuring the faith-status of the regions who have heard of him.

The disciples laugh boyishly and give answers they have heard. Here is an approximation of what they said:

Believe it or not, some think you are John the Baptist returned from the dead!

The ones I talked to said you were the prophet Elijah! It was hilarious!

A few of them said you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets! They just don’t know what to make of you.

Laughter all around.

But Jesus had thrown a curve ball, and now it crosses the plate. He says abruptly, “And what about you? Who do you say I am?” 

Eyes wander, laughter becomes coughs, feet scuff. The disciples’ faith is still young and perhaps they are confused, not to mention the fact that they have never been required to profess anything out loud.

Red faces.

Peter is bold (or maybe just enthusiastic). Figuratively, he is walking on water again. He stammers out a very good answer. “You … you are … the Christ, the … the Son of … You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Silence. And then nods and relief all around.

“Simon, how great is your faith,” Jesus replies. “Whatever you open with this faith will stay open. Whatever your faith shuts will remain shut, not only here but in heaven.” A high compliment to Peter’s tottering belief status.

But what does the story tell us?

That Jesus is always seeking a two-way relationship between himself and other people, not just one-way. Look back and see it.

He wants a mutual love-relationship, in which they open up their hearts and let the Godly lover in. Besides being a charismatic leader or a good friend, he is the very reality of God’s love, present in the world, wide open to loving them. He wants them to relate to the fullness of who he is.

The name of that openness to God’s love on the part of the people is “faith.”

Maybe you see how this relates to our question from above, “Your faith has saved you”?

The people whom Jesus cured had at least a beginning relationship with him. Healing is at last able to take root because Jesus is never just acting on his own, like a mechanic replacing spark plugs: his cures are love being given. But love given must also be love being received.

Otherwise love can’t get in.

So, in fact, it is their faith (openness to God’s love) that has in fact saved them. The healing power of Jesus could never get to them unless the openness named “faith” were not within them!

 *image from the Internet

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