June 24, 2020
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
A few weeks ago we talked about the first words Jesus spoke to his disciples when he appeared to them after his resurrection. He said, “Peace be with you.” This was after they had deserted him, betrayed him, denied him, and were hiding in fear. We see the same Jesus in this verse from Hebrews. It describes Jesus as a high priest full of empathy instead of judgement.
Empathy, quite simply, is the ability to “understand and share the feelings of another.” Once again, a story from my (Nate’s) personal experience: I spent several of my high school and college summers working on construction crews. Most of the crews I worked with were notoriously short on empathy. If you didn’t know how to do something, you were ridiculed — and it wasn’t friendly ribbing. Backing up a trailer, driving a dump truck, running a nail gun, and spreading hot tar on roofs were just a couple of things that I was expected to do correctly, with no training, even though I had never done them before. I remember those examples because each one of them went horribly wrong and ended in near disaster. At each point, I felt like asking, “Don’t you remember what it was like the first time you had to do this? How about a little compassion here?” For many of the guys I worked with, and for me, competence can lead to disdain. Once we master something, we forget the hard road it took to get there. If you are a great cook, you forget all your failed recipes and judge others harshly. If you have done tons of deep emotional work, it is easy to criticize parents or siblings who are still stuck in old habits and patterns. If you have read lots of the Bible, you might look down on less mature Christians. Mastery of complex ideas, skills, and knowledge can cause us to disdain those with less experience or ability.
Not so with Jesus. He was tempted and was without sin. He mastered the ability to live righteously and, in every moment, to do what he saw his father doing. Comfort #2 is this: Jesus’s mastery over sin drives him to empathy, not judgement. He doesn’t forget the difficult road he walked. He doesn’t expect us to get it perfect or avoid temptations. He sees us, empathizes with us, and speaks over us the compassionate words of “Peace be with you.”