Empathy is “entering into another’s feelings.” But I don’t care about my enemy’s feelings. I care about how he or she makes me feel and that is about the extent of it. I want to care. It just isn’t natural.
But Jesus says, Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you. Even when he was being murdered by his enemies he said, Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing. Jesus was able to care about the other person’s perspective, enter into the other’s feelings, under the most dramatic and unlikely circumstances.
And I think I know how he did it. He was so safe, secure, and mature that His ego could not be injured. Being physically abused was an act of sacrifice of his own life, ego, and health, for the sake of the others. He didn’t react to others as if life was a form of competition. There was no “game” to be lost if he was insulted, spit upon, smacked, stripped naked, nailed to the cross. He was always able to be companion rather than competitor, even if companion meant allowing misguided zealots to kill him without a struggle.
His security rested in His Father. There was no trust deficiency. Since he wasn’t afraid for his own well-being there was always enough emotional space for him to step into the other’s feelings; to love–to care about the other’s highest good.
Jesus is serious when He tells us to love our enemies. Yet all around us it seems we understand each other less and less. What has happened to empathy, the willingness to put aside our own feelings, pride, agenda in order to pause and think for a moment about where the other person is coming from? If I am so weak that fear of being despised and rejected controls my response mechanisms, then I’ll be a reactionary participant in a world gone mad. If I can trust God the way Jesus did, then even if I die a thousand “deaths,” I’ll be raised by him a thousand and one times.