From the time Jesus entered his creation with fresh baby skin to the time it was torn on the cross, Jesus embodied empathy. His choice to pierce the cosmos to become Immanuel, God with us, demonstrated the most extreme act of empathy we will ever know. We did not love him first, but he loved us. By imitating him, we cut through the noise of this world to reach our friends in the wells of their suffering or joy. We become a friend with them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
bear with me
empathy requires presence
Instead of rushing to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus first stood outside the tomb with his loved ones and wept. Instead of condescending to the woman at the well, Jesus met her in her pain. Instead of ignoring a man born blind, Jesus stooped to mix a balm of mud in his hands to heal his sight. Instead of dispersing the crowds who had gathered to hear him speak, Jesus not only fed their souls but also their bellies with fish and bread. Instead of leaving this earth without a trace, Jesus appeared to his disciples, understood Thomas’s doubt, recommissioned Peter4, and left the indwelling presence of his spirit. Empathy, then, is both visceral and missional. It carries both qualities in its arms; it feels the weight of the burden others carry and it does the heavy work of reaching out.
empathy requires patience and perseverance
For us to slip into the emotions and experiences of our friends as we would a thick coat, we need patience and perseverance. Sympathy sprints; empathy endures. Scripture repeatedly commands us to bear with one another. “‘Bearing with’ one another (anechomenoi) means putting up with others and enduring discomfort.” Indeed, Jesus modeled empathy by hanging on a cross while people jeered at his agony. His kind of empathy shook the gates of hell for all eternity.
Just as athletes condition themselves for endurance events, empathy is a muscle we can develop through small efforts every day: We can ask questions of our friends rather than rushing to judgement; examine our own emotions so that we can identify with theirs; and ask God to help us remain present in today instead of wishing for tomorrow. Through these exercises, we can grow our empathy so that we can have the strength to carry our friends’ burdens. To feel the weight of our friends’ humanity is to slip our head under their heavy bar, and together, lift.
Watch Session Three
The Profile of a Friend
In what ways does Jesus’ empathy motivate you to empathize with your friends? In your own life, what are concrete ways you have experienced the empathy of a friend, and how did it impact your friendship?
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