Word of the Week: Sympathy

Yesterday morning about 11:20 a.m.(CST) a gunman entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire on those gathered for Sunday worship.

At least 26 people were killed and 20 more were wounded. Among those killed was Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of their preacher Frank Pomeroy.  Also among the slain victims were a 5-year-old child and a pregnant woman.

Obviously, the church and residents of this little town 30 miles Southeast of San Antonio are in mourning over this senseless act of violence in a house of worship.

There are many emotions that flood our minds and hearts upon hearing this tragic news. Shock. Anger. Fear. And dismay. There is one universal response that we should all feel–sympathy.

Christians are called to be people of sympathy. The Bible exhorts, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1Pet 3:8, ESV).

The Greek word means “to suffer with another.” Vincent says it is not limited to sorrow but is the interchange of feelings for fellow human beings…” It is the application of Paul’s command, “to weep with those that weep.”

Sympathy involves compassion. Empathy. Understanding. It really does feel the pain of another. Even for people we do not know. Sympathy for the hurting people of Sutherland Springs should issue itself in prayer and tender feelings for those impacted by this terrible act of evil.

However we don’t have to wait until tragedy strikes to feel sympathy, or only extend our feelings to those at a distance. There are those in our communities, our churches and our acquaintances to whom our sympathy can be expressed in both words and deeds.

To better understand sympathy and learn how to be sympathetic take a look at Christ.

Luke tells about a time Jesus came into the city of Nain and witnessed a funeral procession. A widow woman’s only son had died. A large crowd of people followed. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then Jesus opened the coffin. And raised the boy to life again. (Lk. 7:12-14).

The classic example of sympathy is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was journeying the dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Thieves attacked him. Beat him up. Stole his possessions. And left him dying.

After two religious leaders passed by, a Priest and Levite, Jesus says, “But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him” (Lk. 10:33) But we learn here that sympathy is more than just a feeling. It moves us to action.

The Samaritan stopped. Cleaned his wounds with oil and wine. Bandaged up the bleeding man. Lifted him up on his own animal. Took him to an Inn. Paid for his lodging. And then asked the Innkeeper to look after him. And volunteered to reimburse him for his expense.

Jesus teaches us a lot about being sympathetic toward the problems of others. Sympathy gives of its time. Expends energy. Gets involved. Rolls up its sleeves. Gets its hands dirty. Irish author, Bram Stoker, correctly observed, “Though sympathy alone can’t alter facts, it can help to make them more bearable.”

While it’s impossible to completely understand what another person is experiencing, we can offer support, encouragement, and comfort. In a world surrounded by hurt. Sickness. And suffering.

In the words of C. H. Parkhurst, “Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load.” Let us “bear one another’s burdens” by being sympathetic to the suffering of other people.

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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