The word “empathy” seems to be much in vogue at present, especially with the caring professions – doctors, nurses and care-workers.
But what does it actually mean? The dictionary definition is “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings”; in other words, being able to put yourself in somebody else’s position. By doing this we are recognising our common humanity – that the other person is somebody with similar hopes and fears to us.
This has much in common with the word “love”, which St Paul used to mention a lot in his letters. In some churches this weekend people will hear an excerpt from the letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome. Paul had played no part in the founding of the church in Rome, and he had never been there.
It looks as though he wanted to make sure that they had all the right information about how to be a good Christian, and he goes into detailed instructions, including paying your taxes and your debts, not stealing anything, and certainly not killing anybody; instead of killing your enemy, be kind to him and try to make a friend of him.
Christians must live decently, and there should be no quarrelling or jealousy. And he sums it all up simply – love your neighbour as yourself – treat other people as you would like them to treat you.
The classic example of this is the story of the Good Samaritan. An unfortunate Jewish man was beaten up and left for dead, and the only person who did anything to help was a Samaritan, and the Jews considered Samaritans as enemies.
If everybody showed that sort of love, what a far better place the world would be.
After all, the Beatles had it right in one of their songs: “All you need is love”.