“Twelve Years a Slave” was on television recently and I found it no easier to watch the second time around. The same heartache enveloped me as scenes of brutality, suffering, and massive injustice unfolded in slow but steady fashion throughout the film. This time I was struck most deeply, however, by the plaintive cry of Patsy, the slave lusted after by her master and despised by his wife. Her desperation grows so intense that she begs Solomon, the free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery, to take her life. “I ain’t got no comfort,” she cries.
A few weeks ago I heard a presentation by Jerry Straub, a former Hollywood producer who now devotes his energy and skills to making films about global poverty. It was a sobering look at the millions of people who are without comfort as they scrounge through garbage dumps for scraps of food, seek basic health care, and struggle to survive in rat-infested hovels. After his presentation, I confess to suffering a bit of compassion fatigue. How, I wondered, do we even begin to address the magnitude of the problem? How do we bring comfort to masses of people who lack the most basic necessities for life?
A partial response might lie in the practice of empathy, something Jesus displayed each time he encountered those in pain. When healing people who were ill or infirm, he often reached out to touch the person and thus convey a sense of compassion and warmth. He didn’t shame the woman who others wanted stoned to death for her act of adultery, but instead told her to go and “sin no more” (John 8:11). Surrounded by crowds wanting to be healed in body and spirit, his heart was “moved with pity” because he understood how lost and abandoned they were, “…like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). His capacity to feel for and with others made Jesus a masterful healer
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul’s analogy of the human body describes empathy in beautiful fashion. When one hurts, all hurt; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. By understanding that we are all in need of both human touch and Divine grace, we bring comfort in one-by-one fashion and thus participate in the healing of our broken and sorrowful world.
Choose a passage from the Gospel in which Jesus heals someone and discuss it with your family or class. How does the way in which Jesus brings comfort to others inspire you to do the same?