Jesus – a model of integral empathy


(from the Alphonsian Academy Blog)

Jesus’ empathy is evident and present in many passages of the New Testament. It can be seen in the account of the healing of the two blind men of Jericho (Mt 20:29-34). There, Jesus’ genuine empathy with the two men begging for healing is perceptible in his actions and words. Therefore, it is fundamental for our growth as believers to understand and recognise how Jesus can be a model of integral empathy: that is, cognitive, affective, compassionate, pro-social, saving and spiritual empathy.

Cognitive empathy: Jesus deeply understands the difficult social situation of the marginalised sick who turn to him for relief from their suffering and healing from their illnesses. Therefore, Jesus sees and realises the pain of the two blind men of Jericho who suffer from the rejection and intolerance of the “crowd that rebuked them” (v. 31). Jesus “puts himself in their shoes”. Therefore, at their cry (v. 30), he chooses to stop and listen to their suffering (v. 32).

Emotional empathy: Jesus welcomes the sick with empathy. He feels their suffering with his emotions and feelings. Therefore, with his question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 32), Jesus demonstrates an unconditional welcome and empathetic listening, letting his heart be touched by the cry of despair and anguish of these men: “Lord, may our eyes be opened!” (v. 33).

Compassionate empathy: The empathic, cognitive and affective understanding of the suffering of the blind moved Jesus deeply “in his innards”. This feeling triggers in him compassion and a visceral motivation to give meaning and hope to their lives. Therefore, the expression “Jesus had compassion on them” (v. 34), which is also found in other New Testament passages, clearly reveals this compassionate empathy of Jesus.

Saving, spiritual and pro-social empathy: Jesus’ compassion led him to perform genuinely empathic actions and gestures aimed at relieving these men of their suffering, but also to bear witness to the salvation of the heavenly Father’s kingdom. Thus, in the case of the two blind men, Jesus’ saving, spiritual, pro-social empathy is manifested in the act of healing: “He touched their eyes, and they instantly recovered their sight and followed him” (v. 34).

Jesus’ integral empathy thus becomes an inspiring model for the moral praxis of Christ’s disciple. Indeed, it invites us to integrate Christian empathy more and more, internalising the values of the Gospel and love-charity that contribute to developing our moral judgment. We must also be convinced that the empathy of Jesus heals our personal and relational wounds. Thus, in the face of the fragility of our brothers and sisters, enriched and strengthened by this human and spiritual growth, we too can be witnesses to the integral empathy of Jesus and his saving Hope.

Mario Boies, C.Ss.R., M.Ps.

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