I wonder what one word you would choose to describe Jesus if you were asked first to sit down and read through the entire gospel story? I suspect that for many in our generation it would be empathetic, a relatively recent term (from about 1930) expressing “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It goes beyond sympathy (“sorrow for the misfortune of another”) and describes the sharing of the emotions, thoughts, or attitudes of others. One might say that empathy is a sort of psychological self-forgetfulness that allows a person to experience the feelings of another. The following moments in the life of Jesus – and there are many more – show him to be highly empathetic.
One day some people gathered around Jesus with their children so he could lay his hands on the little ones and pray for them. The disciples felt that activity like that would be beneath Jesus so they chided the anxious parents. I can see Jesus looking out with empathy at the children, gathering them in his arms, laying his hands on them and blessing them. He didn’t simply observe their faces, bright with expectation, but became one with them in their delight (Matt. 19;Mark 10; Luke 18).
Shortly after that, Jesus learned that his friend Lazarus had become ill. So, with his disciples in tow he started out toward the town of Bethany. When he was a mile or so out of town he was told that Lazarus had died. Martha, the older sister, had hurried out to meet Jesus and somehow gotten involved in a theological discussion with him, but when Mary arrived it was quite different. Jesus was visibly distressed and "burst into tears" (John 11:35). His response wasn’t merely a show of sympathy for the death of a friend but genuine involvement in Mary’s sorrow for the loss of her brother. A strong sense of empathy made him one with her in the loss of a dear brother and friend.
The other illustration of the empathy of Jesus was when on the cross he saw his mother Mary standing there with John his disciple by her side. In spite of his own pain – and that was beyond description – he became one with his mother in her agony. To comfort her in her distress and provide for her needs, Jesus looked down with love and said, “Mother, dear mother, John is now your son,” and to John, “Dear friend, take my mother Mary as your own.” (John19:26).
Since empathy is emotional involvement in the thoughts and feelings of another, who could deny that throughout his ministry here on earth Jesus continually demonstrated in his relationships what it means to be empathetic.