There is a connection between empathy and how we act. Empathy is the capacity to appreciate, value and affirm the experience of another person. Feelings, reactions and struggles are appreciated and, at some level, understood. Empathy cultivates a relationship where one attends to the reality of the other, without judgement or blame.
Hebrews 13:1-3 captures this and illustrates it clearly. The words “Let mutual love (agape) continue” are an exhortation to be deeply connected to others in unconditional relationships of compassion, forgiveness, grace and strength. It takes us into a deep, loving commitment of solidarity and will.
Three illustrations are given: show hospitality to strangers, remember those in prison and those being tortured. In each we are led beyond agreeing that something is important and are to directly demonstrate our care in action.
With hospitality – you never know who you are hosting (Abraham and Sarah – unaware that the strangers were angels). Care for the other as though you were in prison or being tortured. The conclusion is 13:6 is “So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” What deep confidence this is.
These three examples of empathy in action are at the heart of ministry and mission. There are many ways where people do not experience hospitality because of discrimination, racism or rejection. Many are imprisoned by life, injustice, past events, the actions of others or fears of what people may think or say. Torture also happens in many ways – never being free of the past, being controlled by the actions or decisions of others, the impact of abuse, political control and other forms of violence.
The way each of these realities are evidenced, changes according to particular contexts. The ministry of the church finds its focus according to its own cultural reality. There is no option – ministry and activity must address such reality.
In Australia this includes our relationship with Australia’s First Peoples, the ways that refugees and asylum seekers are treated and the recent uncovering of the ways that abuse in our communities is tolerated and not acted on.
We are called to a prophetic life of lived empathy; led by Jesus who in his humanity was – “in every respect tested as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He has sown the seeds of hope and courage in us. God’s lived empathy with humanity is expressed in Jesus, crucified, buried and risen to new life.
John Gilmore, Executive Officer