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30th March: Empathy

He had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest... Hebrews 2:17

I used to think I was a fairly decent paediatrician -- providing sound medical care while helping patients and their families cope with both health and illness. But last week, my ability to understand parents increased by at least a degree of magnitude. My six-month-old son cried out for most of two nights. I tried all the clever tricks I knew, but to no avail. Whispering, talking, singing, bouncing, running, sitting, lying, walking -- none of my manipulations of his environment consoled him. My wife and I had frustrating and fitful sleep as we took turns with our son. Before, I had imagined what it must be like for parents to deal with a sick child. Now, I have some personal experience. Already, I've been able to deal with people with a new dimension of empathy.

The book of Hebrews instructs us to `consider Jesus'. As I consider his omniscience, I realise that he could imagine pretty well what life is like on earth. Yet he didn't settle for a carefully calculated understanding of the human condition. He chose to experience humanness, personally. Helived as we live. He faced limitation and hardship. He accepted emotional and physical fatigue and discomfort. And through it all, he became personally able to sympathise with our weakness and to deal empathetically with us.

The second and fourth chapters of Hebrews tell us of some of the consequences of Jesus' incarnation, of the Eternal One's choice to experience human life personally. First (Heb 2:14), he was able to conquer death. By subjecting himself to death and by rising victoriously, he has overcome Satan's deathly reign. Death need not be feared. Physical mortality is not the end. We can live victoriously before, through and after death.

Second (Heb 2:17), by being a human sacrifice, the Lamb of God has paid the penalty for our sin. No longer are we bound to sin and to the limitations of the old nature. We can share in his own deliverance. We can live in the light of the new nature.

But somehow incarnation, resurrection and propitiation all seem somewhat distant when I'm tired and frustrated in the middle of a sleepless night. That's where a third result of Jesus' fleshliness comes in. He has been through it all: he can sympathise with us: he can come to our aid. In the daily (and nightly) details of life, he can help us. He does understand. I need only with confidence to `draw near to the throne of grace...' (Heb 4:15-16).

Even as God gives me the best that Heaven can offer, I can provide for my patients the best of what medical science can offer. And as Jesus understandingly deals with me, so I can and should deal emphatically with my patients.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in
Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).

Further reading: Heb 2:9-18, 4:14-16. Phil 2:3-8, 4:4-9.


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