The Method of Empathy*

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a great passage of Scripture for many reasons, but especially because it portrays what happens when we are empathetic and actively step out of our comfort zone to address another’s needs. In this parable, Jesus is communicating that true compassion, true empathy, is not only a way to glorify God but also the way or the method of empathy. As we have defined in previous emails, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feeling of another. It is a conscious choice to enter into the world of someone else.

As many of you know, the Jews despised Samaritans. The Samaritan had every reason to avoid this man on the road. But what did he do? He saw him. He recognized his humanity. We can also safely assume that this Samaritan was imagining what type of pain and embarrassment he was enduring. From his cognitive empathy, his “heart was moved” to action. He not only personally helped him, but he went above and beyond by paying for all of his needs. 

As followers of Jesus, exercising empathy should lead us to take action when we see a need or to acknowledge someone’s pain. Jesus also shows this when he is mourning the loss of Lazarus with Mary. Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Although He knew the truth, Jesus saw and understood Mary and Martha’s pain and He wept with them. We often think of tragedies like the above example when it comes to empathy. However, we also need to keep in mind that empathy is also acknowledging joy. Empathy does not have to only be enacted when there is heartbreak or loss. It can be just as powerful when it is done when people are experiencing happiness—to “rejoice with those who rejoice”.

Another misconception is that we have to have it all together to be in a place to show empathy. But this is not the case. Scripture does not tell us about this Samaritan’s financial situation. Perhaps he was like the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 who gave out of their own poverty. The truth is we can serve and care for those whether or not we are poor financially, spiritually or physically. Often the Lord calls us to see and help others when we are the most tired, struggling financially or experiencing some type of hardship. And frankly, the most empathetic people tend to be the ones who have suffered themselves.

So what does this look like at Jesus Film Project? It could be that you see a co-worker who has a spouse traveling for a long period of time. You could just say, “Wow! That is really tough knowing you have small children at home.” Empathy would see this person and seek to understand this individual’s current reality. Instead one might say, “Wow! You must be so tired from being the only one taking care of the kids. Could I bring you a meal tonight?” Or as a leader, maybe even asking, “Do you need to take the afternoon off so you could get some rest while the kids are at school?”

To wrap things up, what is the method of empathy? It’s seeing a need, recognizing a loss, celebrating an achievement or life event and then being moved to action no matter our circumstances or our own present needs. Our prayer for Jesus Film Project is that each of us would go and be like the Good Samaritan. We pray we can love each other both in word and deed.

*Jesus Film Project Organizational Culture Team: 03.16.2022.

I want to also share a video clip with you. Please take a few minutes to watch The Parable of the Good Samaritan from our classic JESUS film.

What usually keeps you from stepping into another person’s shoes?

Do you find yourself making excuses not to take action?

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