A man, traveling down a long road, falls into a deep dark hole. He cannot find a way out of the hole and sits waiting for his demise. After a long while, another man walks by and looks down into the hole. He assesses the situation and realizes he can see a way for the man to get out of the hole. He yells into the darkness to the entrapped man, ” Are you there? I know how to get you out. I am coming down to get you.” The man then lowers himself into the darkness of the hole. While there he sits in the darkness with the man and tends to the man. He, now is just like the man, stuck in the hole. Their situations closely equalized. After sitting in the dark for a time together, the man with a plan helps the first man to escape the hole. This is empathy,
A man, traveling down a road, falls into a deep dark hole. He cannot find a way out of the hole and sits waiting for his demise. After a long while, another man walks by and looks down into the hole. He assesses the situations and feels really bad for the man in the hole. He yells into the darkness to the entrapped man, “Are you there? I am really sorry you are down in that hole. That seems awful. I wish you were not down in that hole, but instead were up here with all of us who have not fallen into the hole.” This is sympathy.
“Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy fuels disconnection,” states Brene Brown. In empathy the connection is the common experience. It is quite literally sitting in the dark of the injured and becoming for a time as they are, so that they are not alone, but then having a plan to help them come with you out of the dark. Sympathy, by nature sets a us vs. them dynamic. I am sorry you are not like me in this given moment. I hope you can find your way back to being back to where I am right now.
Empathy is the ability to feel the feelings of another person. By going into the darkness the person who is practicing empathy must allow themselves to go to a place within themselves where that feeling has been very real and very raw for them. Empathy is such a powerful tool for connection.
My friend, Laura, and I have been teaching the sixth graders in our church on Sunday mornings. This past week, as Laura was teaching about Jesus as the Son of God who contained His deity to be a man, the discussion turned to sympathy versus empathy. The power of worshiping an empathetic God should shake us to our core. I have been unable to shake the truth of a God who is willing to not only see us sitting in our dark hole, but says, “I am coming into the darkness with you. Don’t worry, I know what you are going through, but I know a way out of the darkness.”
“Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which means ‘God With Us.’” Matthew 1:23
How much a part of God is empathy? It is the name of His Son. The first identifier of who Jesus would be is a name that depicts the empathic quality of God. It is seen not only in the very birth of God in human body, but in a lowly birth. It is seen as He is baptized while living in perfect righteousness. It is seen in sitting at the table of the sinner and touching the untouchable. Where humanity finds itself, in its lowest form, Jesus is there….He is God with Us.
No story makes me think of this empathetic Jesus as much as the parable of The Good Samaritan. For years I would read this story and think it was a lesson teaching me how I should behave, and I believe it is. However, I think this story best speaks of the empathic nature of Jesus. You may recall that a lawyer asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10)
Jesus then shares the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who was attacked, beaten, left naked and near death. Jesus then describes three men who encounter the injured man. First, the priest, who saw the man and passed him by. Second, the Levite, who also saw him, and passed him by. We could presume, they looked and had sympathy for the man. They likely, wished him well, maybe even prayed for him. It could also be assumed they would be grateful that they were safe on the road. All the sympathy they might have gathered did not produce a connection to the man. And their sympathy left him lying in the ditch—a dark hole, if you will. The third man, a Samaritan—one who would be hated by the lawyer—saw the man on the side of the road and “went to him,” the empathy of the Samaritan is demonstrated in the fact that first he went and dwelt for a while with the man in the ditch he found himself in. While there, he tended to the man, comforting his pain and soothing his sores with oil and wine. He then pulled the man out of the ditch. It would have made no impact on the man for them to both sit in the ditch. He then made arrangements for care of the man. He stated that while he was to go away, he would be back. The innkeeper was to comfort the man until his return.
Jesus then asked the lawyer, “Who do you think was a neighbor to the injured man?” To which the lawyer responded, “The one who showed mercy.”
Who is the Samaritan? Culturally he is the symbol of helping the unknown. I think the Samaritan is Jesus. Who but Immanuel, God with us, came to us when we, the people of the world are beaten and bruised? Who else but Immanuel, God with us, went into the darkness of our sin with us, covered us with wine (His Blood) and pulled us out of the ditch? Who else but Immanuel, made provision for us as He had to go away, but left us in the care of a Comforter? Who, like the Samaritan, was despised? Who else can extend mercy the way Immanuel, God With Us, is able, because he came and sat in the darkness with us; who knows the devastation of sin? I suggest to you it can only be Jesus. It can only be the One whose very name suggests empathy. The One who came into the darkness, but the darkness could not overcome Him. The One who entered into the most dark places of death, so that we would have a way out. The One who is Immanuel, God with Us.