Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings and thoughts of others. Emphatic people are able to show kindness, care, and compassion regardless of a lack of shared circumstances. As stated by VeryWell Mind‘s writer, Kendra Cherry, “Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place” (Kendra Cherry, “What Is Empathy,” VeryWell Mind, 2020). It is an understatement to say that all people need to cultivate empathy in their lives; however, many of us do not practice this trait each day.
However, a man, the Man, who shows us perfect empathy is Jesus Christ. Let’s take a look at the Gospels, diving into three key ways Christ showed empathy on earth:
1. Replacing the Law with Love
Jesus displays empathy when He defies religious law and heals the crippled woman as recorded in Luke 13:10-17. The Lord Himself was not crippled, but He was able to share the feelings of her infirmity. He knew how much the woman suffered and He wanted to be free, both physically and spiritually. This woman had been crippled for 18 years (Luke 13:11). She was hunched over and could not straighten up at all (Luke 13:11). This would have been extremely painful for the woman to experience for 18 years. Can you imagine suffering as this woman did for so long? Even though Jesus did not suffer from being crippled as the woman did, He extended His empathy to her, using compassion and love to heal her.
All this took place while Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath. According to the Pharisees, healing on the Sabbath was unlawful and they were upset that Jesus was healing on this holy day (Luke 13:14). The Jewish leaders had turned the Sabbath into a day of rules, policies, and obligations rather than a day of love, kindness, and peace. Jesus was reclaiming it as a day of freedom, love, and peace (Lynne M. Baab, “The Compassion and Empathy of Jesus,” Lynne Baab, 2021). The Lord could have been like the Pharisees and turned his nose up at the crippled woman, yet He did something radical—He displayed empathy. Jesus challenged the Jewish leaders to do the same when He questioned them, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:15-16).
The Jewish leaders were not extending compassion or empathy; however, the Lord extended both to the woman. In the same way, the Lord extends empathy to us in our daily lives. No matter what we are feeling or going through, our Lord understands. He took on human flesh in order to empathize with our pains, troubles, and sicknesses. We may not deal with a physical infirmity such as being crippled for 18 years, yet many of us know what it feels like to be weighed down, paralyzed by the anxieties, burdens, and stressors of life. Jesus is there to empathize with us and He does even more than that: He picks up our burdens and carries them (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus truly displayed empathy throughout His earthly ministry and still extends empathy to us today.
2. Compassion to the Crowds
Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When Jesus saw the crowds of people, His heart went out to them. The Lord saw that the people were harassed and helpless, and He wanted to offer them everlasting hope. He wanted to drown them in His love, mercy, and compassion. When this passage of Matthew 9:36 tells us Jesus had “compassion on them,” it means He had empathy for the people.
Jesus was God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14:6). Despite Jesus being God in the flesh, He never acted prideful, superior, or indifferent to the people. Rather than growing annoyed or being hostile to the people, He extended love. Not a single person in the multitude was without access to Jesus’ goodness that day. In the same way, Jesus sees that we are harassed and helpless. Jesus understands our daily pressures and anxieties. He understands the grip of temptation that we experience. Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
The Lord can quiet our internal struggles just as He calmed the physical storms. He can balance the requests, pleas, and miracles for all seven-billion people on earth today. All we have to do is to turn to Him. The Gospels record Jesus’ acts of empathy because they give us a glimpse of Jesus’ loving heart for His creation. The Lord empathized with the crowds because He wanted all people to experience His love, mercy, and kindness.
3. Empathy for Women + Children
During New Testament times, Israel’s culture was patriarchal. Women were seen as inferior and subordinate to men (“Compassion in the Life of Jesus,” Our Daily Bread, 2021). Men were seen as leaders, superiors, and dignified, whereas, women were seen as the exact opposite. Despite the rampant patriarchal culture during Jesus’ life, Jesus had a high view of women and treated them respectfully, kindly, and as equals. The Lord never turned away a woman in need of healing, nor did He ever belittle a woman. There was a prostitute who came up to Jesus in search of redemption and He did not turn her away (Luke 7:36-50). In the same way, there was a woman who was subject to bleeding for 12 years, in search of healing, and Jesus provided her with healing (Luke 8:42-48).
Another example is the empathy Jesus extended to widows (Luke 7:11-17). The widow of Nain was a woman overcome with sorrow because her only son had died. Since her son had died, the woman was now childless too. Jesus did not overlook her or turn the other way. Rather, the Bible literally tells us Jesus’ heart went out to this woman (Luke 7:13). The Lord raised the boy from the dead and gave the boy back to the widow (Luke 7:14-15). In God’s eyes, men and women are equal at the foot of the cross. Whether the person was a man or a woman, Jesus extended empathy during His earthly ministry.
Similarly, Jesus extended compassion and empathy not only to adults but also to children. Jesus never turned away a child, but rather, He instructed the people, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). The children during Jesus’ day were not seen as elite members of society as many of them were ill, malnourished, or suffered from deformities (“Compassion in the Life of Jesus,” Our Daily Bread, 2021). Despite society’s view of children or women, Jesus displayed empathy to both.
Jesus never looked down on a person nor did He make them question their worth. Jesus extended mercy, compassion, and empathy to all people—whether they were males or females, adults or children, tax collectors or prostitutes, Israelite or Samaritans. Jesus loves all people and it delighted Him to extend empathy to each person. In our modern-day society, Jesus is still extending empathy to us. Even if we do not see it, Jesus is emphatic to us each day. The Lord knows our thoughts and He knows what our hearts feel. He yearns to patch up our brokenness and heal our hearts. He never wants us to walk down the dark road of depression alone—He is walking with us every step of the way. Since the Lord took on human flesh, He knows what it feels like to be sad, lonely, angry, frustrated, depressed, and tempted. The Lord knows these are hard emotions for us to handle on our own and He wants us to come to Him with all our struggles and lay them at His feet. Give all your worries to the Lord today and He will surround you with His empathy, love, and compassion.
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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Ministry and is currently working toward her Master’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is probably embarking on an adventure.