How Jesus Defined Empathy

[wp_subtitle]Written by Liz Giertz[/wp_subtitle]

I am a self-professed Word Nerd. I really enjoy looking at the origins of words and discovering their distinct nuances that help me understand context.

Off and on for about two years, I have been looking into three words we tend see used interchangeably. But the truth is they have very different meanings.

Sympathy is simply feeling sorry for the hardship someone faces.

Empathy is actually feeling the pain of another person.

Compassion is being moved to do something to ease their distress.

Sympathy is great because it shows that you’ve recognized an injustice. Empathy takes it a step further by understanding the pain someone is going through. But it is compassion that brings the action necessary to make changes that improve or lessen pain.

Sympathy and empathy are just feelings. Compassion creates action.

The Good Samaritan

The word compassion as used in the Old Testament is also translated to mean mercy. So, in the ultimate act of mercy or compassion, God sent His Son to earth to bear the punishment for our sins, die on the cross, rise again on the third day, and then ascend to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father. All this so we could be saved from our sinful state and enjoy eternity with the Father. God saw our sinfulness and didn’t just feel sorry for us. He did something about the predicament we were in.

It is compassion Christ compels us to show others. It is our compassion that will change lives for the better. It is our compassion that will put an end to injustice.

The Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) is a parable Jesus told about practicing compassion. Robbers attacked a Jewish man making a 17-mile journey on foot. They stripped and beat him and left him for dead. A Priest and a Levite, religious people whom we would expect to help the hurting, passed right by the wounded man. But then a Samaritan, who would have been hated by the Jews, noticed the man’s pain and sympathized with him. He didn’t stop there, though. I expect he imagined himself in the same situation and took the time to discover what was needed. He empathized. And then he took action.

He bandaged the man’s wounds and took him to a hotel where he could heal, promising to pay any cost associated with his care. The Samaritan showed mercy and compassion to someone who might not have even considered him a neighbor, let alone a friend.

Love Our Neighbors

Jesus used this story to illustrate how we are to love our neighbors as a fulfillment of His commands.

I don’t know what hardship God has shown you or for which people or what cause He has made you feel sympathy. But I do know that if God has pointed out a problem to you, He doesn’t expect you to stand by passively. He wants you to partner with Him and act. Increase your understanding of the situation until you are moved to compassionately care for those who are left out, marginalized, mistreated, and oppressed.

That is how we love our neighbors.

I so enjoy how Kathie uses her words to invite us to join her in empathy for the causes for which God has burdened her and the practical ways she shares to show compassion for others. I’m excited to read what she has to say about applying empathy this month.


Liz mug shotLiz Giertz is an Army Veteran turned Army wife and mom to two boisterous boys who call FT Hood, Texas home for now. She is passionate about encouraging women to overcome MESSES and embrace their MEMORIES as they become the MASTERPIECES God created them to be. You can connect with her on her blog, My Messy Desk (, as well as on Facebook ( or Twitter (

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