We used to live in a very deprived area in the north of England. There was one home we visited. It was freezing cold, with water running down inside the walls, and just a rough curtain where a door should have been. The family paid good rent for that property – but they had fallen into debt on their council house and been evicted, so had to rent from unscrupulous private landlords, who would send round the ‘heavies’ if they failed to pay. In the shop, we’d get children arriving with a begging letter, asking for food – on the back of a betting slip! Now we live in a fairly ‘leafy’ area, I’ve often asked God, to never let me forget what it’s like for those who have got on the wrong side of debt.
What I’m hoping, is that I maintain my empathy for people. Yes they may have messed up on life, but who hasn’t? But when things don’t go smoothly for me, I have family, friends, backup, skills, resources…things that are usually in short supply for those who get into big messes.
Joseph had empathy (Genesis 45:3-8). He could perceive how his brothers felt – their horror that their dirty secret would be out, that they had sold their own brother into slavery. How could they deny what they all knew to be true? Yet Joseph chose to see life from their perspective, and to forgive them. He removed all blame for the situation from them; in fact, he laid the blame on God! And he set them free to enjoy their newfound relationship, and to be glad in its restoration.
That is what Jesus came to do. He came to be one of us, so that he could understand our weaknesses. He offered a way for us to be forgiven, and for all blame to be laid on himself, so that we might enjoy full relationship and fellowship with himself.
That’s why it’s so important that when we see folk messing up on life, we don’t just stand in judgement on them. We too have needed forgiveness. We too have needed God to lift us up and give us yet another chance. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (or against anyone else for that matter)” We have reason to empathise.