We can learn from the cues Jesus gave in his empathy shown in the gospels. Jesus noticed the poor widow and drew his disciples’ attention to her in Mark 12v41. Jesus looked at and loved the rich young ruler who kept all the commandments in Mark 10v17… but told him to sell all he had and watched him walk sadly away. In John 11 Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, sharing the grief but restored him to life. The disciples showed their lack of empathy towards the women and the children, but Jesus rebuked them and welcomed the women and their children with open arms. Jesus rebuked his host who had not given him the proper reception as a guest of honour, when the woman anointed him in Luke 7, behaving improperly weeping and kissing him, anointing his feet with the most expensive perfume and drying his feet with her hair, like a prostitute, was criticised by his host; Jesus was empathetic towards the woman recognising her love for him and how apart from him people just saw her as a sex object.
The woman caught in adultery was dragged before him about to be stoned to death, but she was brought to Jesus for him to condemn as well. I love this story as it showed Jesus taking a moment to think, as he drew in the dust, before asking the ones without sin to throw the first stone; when all the accusers disappeared, he told her that neither did he condemn her but he told her to go and sin no more; he had not approved of what she had done either but he gave her a chance to change.
Luke showed that Jesus had sympathy with women, who were normally sidelined at the time in society. It was especially empathetic with the woman who had suffered with 12 years of menstrual problems, making her unclean and if she was touched then that person would have to take elaborate measures to become ritually clean again. When she came forward the correct response would have been to rebuke her for daring to touch him, as her blood flow would have contaminated him. Instead he calls her respectfully daughter of Abraham, a faithful loving woman who kept the law and says that her faith has made her whole. He had absorbed her uncleanness into himself and did not stop and change his clothes and go for elaborate rituals for being ritually cleaned, he carried on his way with Jairus. Jesus had healed the woman and showed empathy, approval and affirmation to the woman making her whole.
He saw the need of Jairus and responded with healing his daughter and seeing the heart of the centurion healed his servant. In Mark 12v28 Jesus recognised genuine question of the teacher of the law, the scribe, in the debate about the greatest commandment. The man was overwhelmed by the response of Jesus acknowledging that he was right in his response and telling him that he was not far from the kingdom of God.
Jesus revealed his sorrow at the death of John the Baptist and wanted to be alone to grieve but had compassion on the crowd and fed and ministered to them. In his parable about Dives and Lazarus he recognised that the rich do not notice the poor at their gates, yet he showed empathy as the poor man was named when he had no recognition in life, whereas the rich man was unnamed. He showed empathy to the workers in the workers’ in the vineyard; he did not want them to stand idle after waiting all day to be hired; it was the owner of the vineyard who was generous when all were paid a day’s wage of one denarius, even if they had only worked for one hour! Even at the 11th hour people can turn to God, not just Jews but Gentiles too. Gentiles came late to God. The Jews trusted in the Law and works but the Gentiles trust in the grace of God and get more than they could imagine.
The woman who was bent double in the women’s section was not noticed by most people, but Jesus noticed her and addressed her and brought her forward in the synagogue and healed her and in doing all those things Jesus broke all the rules and created more hostility. Jesus felt empathy with those who suffered and could not leave the woman in constant pain, marginalised and with limited mobility.
The Samaritan woman, who had been married so many times, would have been powerless, as it was only men who ditched their wives, and was not even married to the man she was with, so had to go to the well alone at Midday. Elaine asked some women who belonged to a community, which relied on collecting water from the well nowadays, when they would get water and they said they would go at 6am and never alone so they could help each other; that made the vulnerability of the Samaritan woman even greater, when she went alone in the middle of the day. Jesus recognised that vulnerability and much to her surprise spoke to her, a Jew did not normally speak to a Samaritan, or a woman. When Jesus ignored the usual barriers the Samaritan woman became actively engaged in the conversation and wanted to know if the Jews are right; she was so impressed at his empathy that she hurried to bring others to listen to Jesus.