Matthew 16:13-30 | 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
What Do You Need to Believe?
I am an external processor. I need to write or talk things through to figure out what I think. Sometimes that gets me in trouble, but sometimes after I’ve spent some time jotting things down, I’m amazed that the jumble in my brain can actually piece together. Sometimes, I reread a phrase in a pile of my notes and think, “Oh! That’s it!” It’s the most freeing feeling when I locate the shape of the ideas in my brain.
Based on Peter’s impulsive reputation, I bet he was an external processor too, and Jesus knew it. When Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am?” (v.13), He lays the foundation for Peter to make a critical jump. I imagine that as Peter and the other disciples recite their answer, the wheels start turning. And just like that, Peter makes the leap, “Oh! Jesus is like the great prophets. But…He’s so much more…”
When Jesus immediately follows up with the question, “But who do you say I am?” (v.15), Peter is primed. ”You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v.16).
Because Jesus looks at the heart, He knows people intimately. He knows where to meet them and when they need a push. In this moment with the disciples, I don’t know that Jesus really cared who the people thought He was. He was preparing the disciples for after His death. (Shortly, Jesus will predict His passion for the first time.) Right then, He needed Peter to step up to the role destined for him. So Jesus set Peter up to take ownership of beliefs Peter doesn’t know he has. When Peter states, “You are the Messiah,” his beliefs solidify, and he understands.
That’s what Jesus wants for each of us—for the pieces to click and our beliefs to solidify. How that happens is different for each of us because Jesus is the master of meeting us where we are and giving us what we need at that moment.
Sometimes children need a stern talking to and sometimes they need a hug. Perhaps the Canaanite woman who parried with Jesus needed Him to appear to call her a “dog” (Matthew 15) so that she could articulate her beliefs—not for Jesus but for herself. Perhaps the thing that solidified Zacchaeus’s faith (Luke 19) was Jesus’s immediate acceptance of him by eating at his house. Two different people. Two very different responses. Two believers.
Would the Canaanite woman have realized the fullness of her faith had He healed her child immediately? Would Zacchaeus have returned what he had stolen and more if Jesus had lectured him? We’ll never know, but Jesus knew what they needed. He knows what each of us need to find the shapes in our own jumble of faith so that we too can look to Him and say, “Oh! That’s it!” and fully believe.