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Spirituality of the Readings
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year A
August 27, 2023
John Foley, SJ
It Takes Two

On previous Sundays Jesus has been curing people. Yet an odd thing happens in each case. He tells them, “Your faith has saved you.” That creates a mystery. Quite obviously Jesus does the healing, 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. This will be a roundabout way to get at an answer, so I ask you to wait for it.

Jesus is always seeking a two-way liaison between himself and us, not just one-way.

Jesus is in Caesarea Philippi and the disciples are just back from their mission of preaching. He asks them who people think he is.

The disciples laugh boyishly and repeat some answers they have heard. Obviously they regard these guesses as absurd. Something like this:

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’ question was a curve ball and now it crosses the plate. He says abruptly, “And what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Eyes wander, feet scuff, laughter turns into a cough. The disciples’ faith is still young and perhaps they are confused about it, not to mention the fact that up to this point they have not been required to profess anything out loud. Red faces.

Peter is bold, awkwardly walking on water again, figuratively this time. He stammers out his best answer.

You … you are … the, uh, … yes, uh, 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 says. “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 does this help with the contradiction we began with? Is it Jesus’ action or an act of their faith?

Jesus is always seeking a two-way liaison between himself and us, not just one-way. He wants us to have a relationship to the fullness of who he is. 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 each of us—and being loved in return. He wants a mutual love-relationship with you and me, one in which we open up our hearts and let Godly love in—and return it.

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


So the answer is truly, “your faith has saved you.” But it is faith in Jesus’ cures. These are never just a matter of him acting on his own, like a mechanic replacing spark plugs. They are love being given and love being received. The ones who were cured must have opened themselves and have at least a beginning relationship with Jesus as the loving Messiah.

Healing is then at last able to take root.

John Foley, SJ

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.

Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go