Finding Comfort in the Empathy of Jesus
Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem. The plan was already in motion for his entry to the shouts of “Hosanna.” Jesus would enter on the back of a donkey. The time was at hand. His destiny was before him. He saw the temple looming large upon the hill, the houses of people stacked below in the shadow. Silver-green leaves waved him over from a grove of olive trees. On the wind, smoke from cooking fires carried the comforting aroma of baking bread. A flock of birds settled into a tree.
It could have been the beauty of an ordinary day that caused Jesus to pause and reflect as he looked at the great city, but beauty wasn't the reason for his tears.
“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42)
Maybe it was empathy that brought Jesus to tears?
Jesus had walked on the earth for thirty-three years as a man. He knew our reality—-all that keeps us from being able to see. He knew this in his bones.
Jesus wasn’t weeping for himself. He was weeping for those he loved. Many, many whom he loved would turn away, hide their eyes, and refuse the peace of God he would make possible. This man, the Son of God, would be the last and final sacrifice. Jesus, the Lamb, came to take away the sins of the world.
Jesus was willing to walk in the complexity of his empathy. The cross was good and bad. It would provide redemption for all who would exchange their lives for his, but others would not receive the gift. Their fate would be sealed. How Jesus agonized over the reality! Not everyone would be saved. Many would refuse to put their faith in anything—anyone other than themselves. Jesus knew this temptation. He had faced it and overcome it. Now he had come to this moment, the one that would end in death, and he allowed Himself to feel the pain of the brokenness of men and women, boys and girls. Jesus identified with us in every way.
“For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Is. 53:2-5)
Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem began with sorrow. He wouldn’t rejoice over those he would save until he felt the pain of those who would reject him.
Life is hard. Jesus knew this truth. He knew it in his bones—in his calcium and phosphorus, blood-making bones. These bones would carry the sorrow, the grief---these bones bore the chastisement that would bring us peace.
This knowledge, undergirded with great love, compelled our Savior to move through his grief toward his destiny. He climbed on the donkey and rode into Jerusalem. The crowds waved the branches and shouted his praise. It was the beginning of the end.
As we move through this season of Lent, I sense the empathy of Jesus. He understands the sorrow I carry in my calcium and phosphorus, blood-making bones. My grief finds it’s source in empathy as well. I’m watching my parents struggle with health issues that weigh heavy with suffering. The path before them, and before me beside them, is unclear. My comfort comes from knowing Jesus has gone before us. He knows the way.
“Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy: Few things in life, including our own hearts and motives, are black and white, either-or, simply good or simply bad. Maturity invites us to see, understand, and accept this complexity with empathy so that, like Jesus, we cry tears of understanding over our own troubled cities and our own complex hearts.” (Ron Rolheiser)
I hope you are taking the time to sit and reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross. None of us are immune to pain. The opportunity of Lent is to remember Jesus’ empathizes. Jesus wept. He understands.
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