For those of us who have much, it is difficult to understand the lives of those who have little. We have trouble fully comprehending what life is like on the other side of the poverty line. But we’re closer to understanding than we might think.
Jesus is the person who brings us closer to understanding the difficulties of poverty. Jesus is the source of our empathy. My clue for this comes from passages like these:
“As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’” (Luke 9:57–58).
Jesus was born as a poor man, lived as a poor man, and died as a poor man. The Son of Man, Jesus, had "nowhere to lay his head." In his travels as a rabbi (teacher), Jesus relied on the hospitality of other people.
Jesus lived like the poor. There is sadness in this statement, but it’s also hopeful. It makes me sad for Jesus, but in my empathy for Christ, I am learning to have even more empathy for those who are hurting. I am growing closer to God’s heart as I think upon Jesus’ plight.
This is much of what believing in Jesus is all about: We have an opportunity to recognize how God himself experienced the full spectrum of suffering, as Jesus, and then do as Christ did—give of ourselves freely for the betterment of others. This leads to a profound lesson that Jesus taught in how he lived: self-sacrifice is essential.
There is hope for those living in extreme poverty. There is love to be offered. There is empathy to be found for each and every situation. There is empathy to be felt and experienced through our relationship with Jesus.
It is in Christ, who experienced poverty, that we also find the solution to poverty. We find new life through his resurrection. We find hope in him that we can offer to other people. We find order overtaking chaos. We find death itself not being able to hold back God’s work. We see a restoration of life—lived fully for the eternal God, starting now. There is power to be found in empathy.
If you find yourself struggling with empathy, look no further than Jesus; his example will guide you back. Jesus' self-sacrifice, for the sake of the spiritually and physically poor, is our example.*
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*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "Jesus and Empathy: Moving Closer to the Poverty Line."