“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” - Luke 15:7 (NRSV)
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a church reformer, writer, and contemplative, who was famously faithful to her friends. She was especially devoted to people who supported her mission and defended it from its many detractors. She was so grateful to them that she often overlooked their glaring faults and excused the harm they caused, letting them off the moral hook with embarrassing ease.
Teresa was loyal to a fault. She knew it, wasn’t proud of it, but couldn’t help it. “I could be bought for a sardine,” she sighed.
They say everyone has a price—even, apparently, the saints. We may aspire to be steadfast, like the ninety-nine who don’t need to repent, but we’re more likely to be wobbly, the one who wanders away. The world, after all, is messy and complicated. So are we all. An occasional bargain with the devil is almost inevitable. Sometimes the best we can do is put up a respectable fight before we give in.
And maybe that’s not so bad. Because there’s something a little terrifying about people who can’t be bought. You might momentarily admire a conscience with no “give” in it. But when the time comes to pour out your soul, confess your weakness, and find some kindness for your dithering heart, you don’t gravitate towards the perfect and the pure. There’s a whiff of judgment about them. When what you need is mercy, you look for someone reeking of sardines.
Good Jesus, may my inescapable weakness give me the most tender regard for the weakness of others.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.