Can Jesus really sympathise?

“Jesus knows what you’re going through.”

The Bible tells us that Jesus as a High Priest can sympathise with all of our sufferings. That He knows what it is to be human.

I have often rebelled against that. Was Mary sick with an incurable disease? Was Joseph? Did one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters suffer from epilepsy or depression or MS? If not, then how can He possibly know what it’s like to be a Watcher? How can He possibly sympathise with me?

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Or was Jesus sick Himself? Did he spend the evening wracked in pain? Did He wake up every morning with every bone in His earthly body aching? Did He have to stop frequently on the way to Galilee to throw up by the side of the road? And if not, how can He possibly sympathise with my Loved One who is suffering?

The Bible doesn’t say. We do not know. How then, can Jesus sympathise with our Loved One in their suffering – and how then can we point them to Jesus and tell them that He understands… if He doesn’t?

This is a dilemma.

A diagnosis

Looking at Jesus’ life, I can’t help but notice the similarities between the beginning of His ministry on earth, and the diagnosis of a chronic illness.

Knowledge

When He began His ministry we know He knew what was ahead of Him. Because He was God as well as man, He had some idea of the loneliness that would follow, the difficulty He would have in communicating His life and teaching to others. He knew that His future up to the cross would not be a happy one and greater pain and sadness was to follow.

Similarly when our Loved Ones are diagnosed they are informed of the symptoms. They receive information regarding the pain that will follow, the progression of the disease, the handicaps that will come. They struggle to convey this knowledge to others, and know that whatever the course of their life was to be, it has now changed forever. There may be no healing to look forward to, merely ‘management’ – and management inevitably gets harder as their bodies age. It will be a long slog to the grave from here, and nobody understands what it’s like, not really.

Temptation

From Isaiah 53 and the gospel accounts we learn that Jesus did not merely suffer mentally but physically as well. He knew what it was to weep, to bite His teeth in pain. He knew what hardship and hatred felt like. He knew what it was not to have a home to go back to, to be hungry and to be cold.

He did not want this pain. This is illustrated at the beginning of His ministry when the devil offered Him a future free from suffering in exchange for the world. I’m sure the temptation did not stop there.

Just as it doesn’t stop for our Loved Ones. They too are tempted to pursue dubious methods of treatment, or merely freedom from pain at a cost which is too great. Tempted to end it all. Tempted to let their illness make them cynical and bitter and cranky. Tempted to give in to fear. Tempted to run away and leave others and their sufferings far behind. Tempted to protect themselves instead of love.

Misunderstanding

Jesus understood what it is like to share something huge and have people misunderstand. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” He announced in the temple, and His community, those in His town who watched Him grow up, asked: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They don’t understand, and drive Him out.

Our Loved Ones too, know that feeling. When they tell people the test has come back positive – and no one really understands what that means for them. When they finally summon the courage to share their despair and their hopelessness… only to be snubbed or treated with carelessness.

Jesus the live-er

I think we sometimes forget Jesus lived a relatively long life. He didn’t appear as a baby, jump to His miracles and then leap ahead to the crucifixion and resurrection. He didn’t merely live the ‘important’ parts of His life and conveniently skip over the rest.

He lived life day in and day out, just as we and our Loved Ones have to. He knew what that was like.

Can you imagine Him, making His weary way to Jerusalem where death awaits?

Pain in the present, pain in the future. No one understands. The crowds hound Him, they want His healings more than His teachings. He has compassion on them again and again.

Even His disciples don’t understand. “This is a hard teaching,” they say. “Who can accept it?” Peter goes so far as to scold Jesus. There is no appreciation of His sacrifices, no sympathy.

Jesus walks on. Clarifying again and again. Taking the time to use imagery, parables, reasoning. A shepherd and His flock. A temple rebuilt. A man who sows seed. A Son who is killed by vineyard workers. He continues in love, continues explaining, continues to live life with these people who don’t understand and cannot possibly empathize with His own sufferings.

At one point He pauses, and looks out over the city that has caused Him nothing but grief. His death is near, and He laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34).

What a Saviour. What a Man. What love. When Jesus calls us to love as He loved, to forgive as He forgave and to become like Him in all that we do, He is not referring to some vague example. He points us to a life of flesh and blood. A dirt stained, tear streaked, tragedy littered life endured for us. And He in us, the hope of glory.

By ourselves we are weak, and sorrow brings out the worst rather than the best in us. But Jesus promises to work in our hearts, and make us more like Himself. So “let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who works in us, to will and to act.” He has gone before, and all He calls us to do is follow. What an offer, what a chance! Let us rejoice in every instance that our lives mirror His, be that in suffering or in joy.

Jesus the die-er

Not only did Jesus know how to live, just as we must live. He also knows what it is like to die, as we all must die, some in more painful ways than others. Some more slowly, some all at once.

Picture Him, dangling on the cross, bearing the unimaginable anger of God upon himself for us. Remaining silent in the presence of unfair accusations, and bitter, hurtful barbs. Pouring himself out in a sacrificial love which we would never dare contemplate for ourselves. The perfect lover, the perfect friend. Leaving heavenly glory for us.

Come let’s meet Him together. Let’s sit at his feet and dismiss all perceived barriers, all labels, all expectations to go out each day and love again. To drink of the living water and pass it around. To share joyfully. Let us tear apart the roles we’ve constructed for ourselves and the rights that we think we deserve, and sit in humility. Loving and being loved. Empowered by the cross and the immense love there, knowing that we only have to live one day at a time. Let us fill up at the cross as often as we can.

He spread his arms out and looked down. He could have glorified His own sacrifice, His own suffering, but He didn’t need to. In the moment of His anguish He disregarded His own turmoil and talked to the criminal. He listened to both of them, and to the jeers of the crowd. He spoke civilly and took the opportunity to shower love rather than demand it in return. Humility, vulnerability and peace marked His last hours. A willingness to interact, to love again and again even when it was spat back in His face and despised. To enter deeply into all human life, even though His Kingdom was from Above and He was returning to paradise there.

Can Jesus really sympathize?

I think He can. Maybe He didn’t have a chronic illness. But He did have pain. He did have foreboding. He knew what it was to live for the long haul and He knew what it was to endure moments of blazing agony. He knew what it was to be misunderstood, to be alone. He knew what it was like to live among imperfect people.

To top it all off, He is not only human but deity. He understands more than a mere human ever could, even if that person lived through the exact same life as our Loved Ones. In His almighty knowledge and love He is the Supreme Comforter. We don’t deserve Him.

God, in Christ, doesn’t only walk ahead of us, but walked (and continues to walk) alongside us as well.

I think He is One we can point our Loved Ones to.

//Have you ever wondered how Jesus can sympathise with all our weaknesses? Do you honestly believe He can? How can we possibly point others to this truth?

Comment below!

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