But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7: 50
At every level of our lives peace seems to be an increasingly rare commodity. Despite the fact that technology was once seen as promising the emergence of “a global village,” our increased virtual contact with each other seems to have, transitionally if not permanently, only increased our envy, mistrust, and fear of each other. We may be discovering that more information about each other does not necessarily lead to greater bonds of identification and a deepening sense of compassion. In the gospel story from Luke, we see two modes of presence. Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner, but he keeps his distance. As Jesus says, Simon does not give him water to bathe his feet, or kiss him, or anoint his head with oil. On the other hand, the Woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and kisses them and anoints them with oil. Her love impels her to risk coming close and to serve in the most intimate of ways the needs of Jesus. Jesus tells the Woman that it is her faith that enables her to go in peace, a faith that empowers her not to keep her distance but to come close to the world.
Simon remarks that if Jesus knew who this Woman was, he would never allow her to touch him. And yet, it is quite clear that it is Jesus, and not the others, who does know her. They know her by the externals of her life, by certain public acts that have made her an object of rumor and scorn. Jesus, on the other hand, knows that all of us are sinners, some just more publicly the object of shame than others. He realizes that our public reputation is not the sum of who we are. In his lengthy and strong rebuke to Simon, Jesus makes clear that far more important than our moral successes and failures is our capacity and willingness to love. The woman expresses her faith in the profuse nature of her expression of love for Jesus. She believes in the power of love in her regard, which allows her to give all she has in love in return, without concern for how she appears. Somehow, she knows that Jesus loves and forgives her, so she must be close to him and tend to his needs. She does not do what she does out of a cognitive belief or an ethical imperative. She experiences forgiveness and love in the depths of her heart and spirit and thus gives her all in service to Jesus. Her faith is not an idea; it is a profound and total experience of mercy and love. She experiences a merciful love that is stronger than anything she has done or experienced that would to deny it. Peace comes to those who know a love that is stronger than any fear.
We do not grow closer to or identify with others primarily through information about them. The repulsion many of us come to feel toward our public and political discourse, I think, is related to the fact that the pervasive affect that sources it is anger based on fear. Simon the Pharisee, from his felt sense of privilege and superiority, in fact needed to keep this woman in her place because he feared her. He could tell himself that he feared her sinfulness, but perhaps more to the point he feared her love and her faith. Did she represent sinfulness, as Simon claimed, or perhaps did she embody aspects of human desire and spirit that frightened him?
At the personal level we can try to find peace by keeping those aspects of our own lives that we fear, and any strangers that might remind us of them, at a distance. At the societal level we can analogously build walls, live segregated lives in gated communities, and minimize our contact with others, replacing direct, human, bodily contact with virtual relationship. However, we need to recognize that we do so because we lack faith, in our own deep needs and desires, in each other, and ultimately in the God who loves and forgives us all. In this sense, faith and love are inseparable. We are saved from our selves and our fears, and so know peace, by a faith in God that both comes from and leads to our self-giving love of others.
The saint at her moments of supreme selflessness also achieves a perfection of being, which is in a sense a non-being. When she annuls Self to become one with the life that is the world’s life, the saint arrives at a form of completion. She does not simply understand that there is “one life within us and abroad.” Understanding is no longer relevant. She merges with that life and ministers to the being of others as if it were her own. The nun who goes to live among lepers, the monk who feeds the poor, the teacher of love who turns the other cheek, not out of cowardice but out of compassion: these people live a life of fullness, outside of time. Or at least so Jesus and the Buddha tell us.
Mark Edmundsom, Self and Soul, pp. 100-101