Empathy Is Not Exclusive
You’ve probably read several news articles, Facebook posts, blog entries, and even some tweets and Instagram’s devoted to the division that’s currently overwhelming America. Twitter rants and conflicting news stories started to make my blood boil Saturday night. I wanted to un-follow people on social media that I had long respected. I wanted to comment on a plethora of ridiculous Facebook arguments between “so called” Christians.
But I am happy to announce I did neither. Instead, I started working on a blog entry with the attempt to delight you all. It was entitled, How Would Jesus Protest? Catchy, huh? Kind of provocative, right? But after a few hours and only three short paragraphs and a Scripture I realized I had nothing; so instead, I turned on the T.V. and watched the newest Hallmark movie (my guilty pleasure) – it was the right decision.
Sunday morning I went to church and heard the most beautiful talk about Jesus and Silence by my pastor, who is also my big brother. Just the title of his talk alone made me eternally thankful that my How Would Jesus Protest discourse got bumped for another predicable Hallmark love story.
I haven’t been able to stop pondering one of the Scriptures from the Sunday talk:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17 ESV
Peaceable. Open to reason. Full of mercy. Impartial. The “wisdom from above” that James is describing sounds a lot like empathy to me. I use the terms love and empathy rather interchangeably – this is because I believe one of the ways agape love is truly lived out in our lives is through the practice of empathy. Empathy is proof positive that love is flowing through us.
Back to the global panic on Saturday – I realized my frustration directed at people was because my empathy (and more importantly, my love) likes to drift to exclusivity. I like to choose whom I have empathy for. But this is where I get it wrong so many times. For empathy to be empathy, it cannot be selective or exclusive. Empathy that flows from a tender heart full of love can only be expressed through inclusion.
I know I’m not the only one who falls into this trap. And this is where I’m going to say something that many people might not like to hear. I know, because it’s difficult for me to hear as well. Empathy in order to be empathy must be demonstrated toward EVERYONE. Yep, even that person who has verbally attacked you for having a different opinion. Yep, for the refugees. Yep, for the President.
I can’t protest in defense of the refugees and then go home and tell my child not to love the difficult kid in her class. I can't tell someone to be kind and respectful to women but at the same time hate the powers at be. I can’t donate millions of dollars to charitable causes that end the water crisis or world hunger but then scream at my spouse and refuse to listen to him. I can’t defend the unborn and then rejoice over a death row sentence. Jesus kind of empathy is congruous. It's not selective. That doesn't mean we all agree on everything all the time -- but it does mean we're peaceable, gentle, open to reason and full of mercy to everyone...all the time.
Jesus, in Scripture, gives a full view of empathy, which extends to everyone. I’ve heard Matthew 25 a lot the past few days.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. …Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:35-36, 40 ESV).
I’ve quoted this Scripture many times – and most of those times I had it wrong. The “brothers” Jesus is talking about here in Matthew are those who are proclaiming the Good News, his disciples. It is a parallel to what we find Jesus saying in Matthew 10:5-15. Jesus is not talking about the poor and oppressed here. He does that often in other places, especially in the Gospel of Luke. But here he is strictly speaking about those who proclaim the Gospel.
Scripture cannot mean what it does not mean. And it cannot mean what we want it to mean. Rather, we have to let Scripture inform us about who Jesus is and what He is about. And Jesus is about ALL PEOPLE.
Jesus was and is for both the marginalized and the privileged. He is for both the powerful and the powerless. So how do we exist in this tension of dramatically different views in our world today? We choose inclusive empathy. We practice it by being tender towards everyone rather than trampling over them with our words. We demonstrate it by listening to the people we disagree with the most. We do it by loving our enemies. And we do it by not having selective empathy.
So… I’m going to practice empathy that includes everyone this week! Join me!
My book Finding the Lost Art of Empathy will be released May 16, 2017 and is available for pre-order on Amazon now!