Empathy & Compassion

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" And he answered, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." And He said to him, "You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE." But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."  - Luke 10:25-37

As individuals we naturally focus on what concerns us. Our daily routines, the things we need to do, our problems, we are all preoccupied with ourselves and all that concerns us. But as servants of Jesus Christ we need to learn to go outside of ourselves. We need to see and understand the people around us.

When we were in school, how did we feel when we watched bullies pick on a helpless student? Did we feel for the student or laugh along with the bullies? When we see a woman with a child begging on the street, do we feel her struggle? When we hear of a suicide do we try to fathom the desperation this person must have felt that there was no other way? Or do we just make a mental note and move on?

Many of us don’t really bother to get to know other people too well because that means getting out of ourselves and getting involved in someone else's life and problems and we have enough of our own to deal with.

But when following Christ's commandment to "Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself", we need to observe and have empathy for what is going on in people's lives.

Empathy:
The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In the Parable of the Good Shepherd we see the priest and the Levite bumping into the beaten man on the side of the road, and then continuing on the "other side" to go around him and distance themselves to avoid getting involved. It seems the Samaritan man who came to his aid was not from that area but on the road from some other place. In other words, he was not the man's neighbor. The Samaritan man stopped, bandaged the man, brought him to a safe place and took care of him.

A crucial aspect for being an effective servant of God is having empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others and understand what needs to be done.

Many of us see the news and hear of the wars, hunger, crime, injustice, and displacement that affect so many people. We try to have empathy but some situations seem foreign to us. Many of us don't really understand what it means to live in poverty, to feel discriminated against or feel desperate to the point of wanting to take your own life. And because we don’t understand, many of us can't fathom the suffering of others. We see, but feel nothing. And when we feel nothing then we will do nothing like the priest and the Levite who walked by the man beaten on the street. They saw the beaten man, looked away and kept on going. But the Good Samaritan saw, felt and acted.

Without empathy we will have a very difficult time following Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves because in order to serve others, we not only need empathy but also compassion.

Compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Notice the difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy is the understanding of the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others. Compassion is having empathy for those who are distressed and wanting to do something to help them. We need to have both.

We may have no problems going though our own life and think others should be like us, but there are some people who cannot just get up and just live out their lives happily. There are many people who are struggling, disadvantaged, afraid, and just have a really difficult time. We may not understand what makes someone tick, but sometimes we just need to stop being judgmental and be more empathic to those whom we don't quite understand.

This includes having empathy for people whom we don’t like. The more we try to understand people and see things from their perspective, the more we will have understanding and compassion for them. Everyone needs more understanding.

But how can we get empathy and compassion? How can we have feelings for someone we don't really know?

Through the Holy Spirit.

When we come to Jesus, it is important for us to seek and be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we receive The Holy Spirit, our eyes are opened to the suffering and pain of the world that sin has caused. It is through Him that our hearts open up. We become one with the Lord and He opens our eyes, our mind and our hearts. When we can see the world with His eyes, we will be able to see the whole picture.

For the person who sincerely wants to serve God, Jesus asks us to follow Him and do as He does. We are Christians. Mini-Christs. Jesus had compassion for all people so we then must have that same compassion.

When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. -Matthew 9:36

The Samaritan, who was considered religiously and racially impure, was the one who had empathy AND compassion. But then he went further. He did something.

He ACTED.

What does it take for us to go the next step further and act?

That is one of the stumbling blocks so many of us face. To actually step up and do something when the Spirit shows us things. So many times we feel like we need to do something, but then we do nothing. How many times have we felt the need to talk to someone, ask how they are, offer to help, but then we don't.

This is the next step after empathy and compassion. Action.
Remember this the next time you bump into someone who is struggling, is troubled, or alone. The Spirit beckons us to love and care for the people around us, because this is the way Jesus touches people. Through us.

 

© 2018 Edrick


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