“It is only by empathy being aroused that we change. ” — Alice Walker
Experiencing a situation from within the frame of reference of the other.
This Sunday in eleven:eleven, Tom and I will be looking at the parable of The Good Samaritan (which, by the way, was referred to as the parable of The Man in the Ditch in earlier references). What a wonderful and inspiring image of kindness from and kindness toward another. But, if Jesus’ parables are meant to provoke – to disrupt the status quo – what are we missing when we limit this parable to this one understanding (even though it is a worthy message!)
Empathy may be the key.
When the unnamed man, presumably an Israelite, is attacked by robbers and left half dead in a ditch along the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, three people walk by. The first two, a Priest and a Levite, saw but did not respond to the man in the ditch.
Many reasons have been given for this, but we actually do not know why they did not respond; the author does not allow them an excuse. The third man, however, saw the man in the ditch and “his heart went out to him.”
He tended to the man’s wounds, put him on his donkey’s back and took him to an inn, left the next morning with instructions and funds for the innkeeper to care for injured man until he could return, at which time he would repay any further expenses. A wonderful story, but with a twist – the one who showed compassion and the one whose life needed to be saved were enemies.
What challenged the mutual ideas of hatred, discord, bigotry? It began with empathy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. asked his listeners to imagine the Priest and the Levite thinking to themselves, “what will happen to me if I stop to help?” It would be reasonable for them to be afraid. (Although, contrary to common interpretation, the Law did not forbid them from offering aid – in fact, it was expected!)
The Samaritan, however, likely asked a different question: “what will happen to him if I do not stop to help.”
Right now we as individuals, as a nation, as a society in interrelatedness with all other societies and nations, are being given the opportunity to be broken open, and have the chance to rethink our lives, our purpose for living, our values. This pandemic has heightened our awareness of the interconnectedness of all life and our dependence upon each other to work for the good of all.
With the murder of George Floyd, the spark was lit for empathy to become inflamed to action. We have been opened up to go beyond sympathy to empathy – because we are admitting that we do not have a solid understanding of one another and we certainly do not understand the bigger systems in which we participate — and how we participate in them.
Empathy drives this.
My prayer for each of us, for this nation, for our world, is that we would engage ourselves in the power of empathy to move toward a more just, kind, and healthy world for all people. That is the Kingdom of God to which Jesus calls us to aspire by following him – loving as he loved.
Join Tom and me this Sunday at eleven:eleven as we consider the possibility that we might be the one in the ditch and the unbelievable idea that our enemy may indeed be the very one who could save us. Join in the conversation and let us know what you think, Sunday at 11:11 am, live online at fumcfw.org/1111-live .
Shalom – God’s Peace,
Rev. Linda McDermott
Associate Pastor of Adult Education