The Power of Empathy

“Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” John 4:6

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As a teacher, my favorite thing to talk to my students about was empathy. We searched it out in the stories we read and the history we learned. Empathy turns regular everyday folks into superheroes.

Many people confuse the term sympathy for empathy by thinking they are one in the same. In actuality, they are more like two different stones along the same path. Sympathy is that first and often easy step, the initial warming of the heart when you see someone struggle. Empathy, however, has a boldness to it that makes our Father proud.

Imagine a thunderstorm outside your window. The rain seemed to come out of nowhere and it pours down with such intensity that you are sure it has never rained this hard before. Ground does its best to absorb the hit, but soon water overpowers it. Dirt turns to mud and the sidewalk looks more like a creek bed than a passage way.  Staring out, your gaze moves towards the hunched figure of a man. His hands on top of his head in a feeble attempt to cover himself.

Sympathy looks upon the man with a sense of pity. S mutters to itself, “too bad” then returns to its life. But this is where empathy shines. Empathy sees the poor huddled mass and thinks, “I too have walked in the rain.” Grabbing an umbrella, E runs outside and holds it over the man’s head as they walk through the storm together. The difference is love.

Jesus is our perfect example of empathy. God joined us in our walk to perfect His plan. He knew there was something beautiful about the experience. The God who created and planned understood creating and planning was not enough, that there was value in empathy. The knowing what each other has gone through and coming alongside.

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:17-18).

This glorious relationship works both ways. Jesus became like us, so we can become like Him. It is in our suffering that we capture a glimpse of his sacrifice. When we suffer it gives us an experience to hold on to. A time to reflect on Jesus and say “I too have walked in the rain.” It allows us to imagine, if only vaguely, the cost of our grace.

“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb 13:11-13).

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Image Credit: Eugene Delacroix. “Christ on the Cross.”

5 thoughts on “The Power of Empathy

    • I get the pain part. In the painting Jesus is the center of the chaos. Sinners and loved ones, He’s there for them all. That is empathy in action, in one scene is everything.

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