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Speaking to the Soul: Unable to Sympathize

Speaking to the Soul: Unable to Sympathize

6 Easter, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]


Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 85, 86 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)

Ezekiel 1:28-3:3

Hebrews 4:14-5:6

Luke 9:28-36

I noticed several friends last week posting a link to a series of empathy cards designed by a cancer survivor. The messages on these cards include raw humor (“Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason”) and difficult honesty (“I’m really sorry I haven’t been in touch; I didn’t know what to say”). The designer of these cards helps us understand how to offer empathy when an illness like cancer isn’t part of our direct experience.

The author of today’s second reading also invites us to experience a genuine source of sympathy, especially when those connections are hard to find. The Scripture tells us that in Jesus, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” In his priesthood, Jesus does not want to be so distantly exalted that he cannot sympathize with us.

Of course the details of our own forms of weakness, loss, and suffering aren’t identical to biographical events from the life of Jesus. However, the exalted Christ is not limited by a human life story. Rather, he can be with us in our experience of terminal and protracted illness, dissolution of personal relationships, suffering and exclusion based on discrimination, recovery from addiction, and more. The miracle of God in Christ is that he can sympathize with us all. In fact, Jesus Christ is the empathy of God.

But what about our own ministries of empathy? In what areas of our lives are we unable to sympathize with others? These are wonderful areas to lift up in prayer today, to surrender to the mercy and grace of Jesus, whose heart transcends the limitations of our own understanding and experience. May we find in Jesus Christ both sympathy for our own struggles and the ability to offer mercy and grace even to those whose wounds and weaknesses we don’t fully understand.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


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Sue-Ellen Jones

My husband has stage 4 lymphoma and sometimes people’s comments are pretty painful and even thoughtless (a person advised me to think about whether I would ever want to re-marry). I look for compassion within myself for these folks since they try to connect but I also pray for the strength to look beyond stupid comments to the usually kind person beneath. Thanks for writing this.

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