When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)
Empathy is not just a feeling; it’s a feeling that compels us to do something.
Numerous times in the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus, it says He was moved with compassion. But that compassion was never an end in itself. Jesus did not just sit there being moved. His compassion drove Him to do something about it, whether it was to heal someone, or sit down and teach a crowd of people, or in a couple of instances it drove Him to feed them because He put Himself in their shoes and knew they’d be hungry. “I feel compassion for the people,” He once told his disciples, “because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32). So given that, He fed them. He didn’t just teach them; He wasn’t just concerned about their souls. He got inside their shoes and realized they were hungry, so He did what He could do… He performed a miracle and fed them.
Empathy is very practical. It gets us inside people. It spurs us on to grace. Empathy is not for contemplation; it is for action. If it doesn’t produce any change in us, it is just a useless exercise. We would be better off not knowing.
We created a video a while back that contained footage of random people walking by, or sitting on a park bench or pushing a stroller, and with each one we imagined in a sentence what might be going through the mind of that person: someone just found out the test was positive; someone’s son is serving in a dangerous environment and she hasn’t heard from him; a couple is breaking up; someone just lost her job; a dad just found out his wife is pregnant… these are things that empathy would tell you, and knowing the truth would draw you closer, either to weep with or rejoice with someone, and ultimately to do something to help acknowledge the feeling or alleviate the pain. That’s where grace goes — outward to those around us. But you have to know. You can’t just guess. You have to know, and once you know, you can do something about it.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
I often feel this way towards my son, Chandler. I know there is pain in his heart. I know he is confused about a lot of things. He doesn’t tell me, but that may not be because he doesn’t want to. It may be that I haven’t given him the chance. In my heart of hearts, I want to embrace him and give him grace, and instead, I am the typical stoic dad standing back and reminding him of what he is not doing and what he must deal with, and then rush back into my corner because I don’t want the confrontation. I said earlier: “Empathy is not just a feeling; it’s a feeling that compels us to do something.” It compelled the father to embrace his son, welcome him home and throw him a party! Now I know what to do.
If I will just get out of my corner!