Jesus Showed Sympathy

There is little more painful than the death of a child. Whether unborn, at birth, or later, something deep inside us rebels at the thought of a child dying or preceding their parents in death. Who didn’t feel pain reading the story of five-year-old Julianna Snow’s end-of-life conversation with her mother?[1] Who watched the news of Sandy Hook unfold without feeling anger toward the shooter and compassion towards the parents?

Luke Chapter 7 finds Jesus in the presence of a parent who has just lost a child. As he and his followers enter the town of Nain, they are met by a sorrowful procession. A boy has died. We do not know the age of the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus addresses him as “young man” in verse 14.

Luke takes great care to inform the reader that the dead boy is the “only son of his mother,” a widow. As a widow, she would have depended upon her son to care for her and continue the family line. Jesus would have known this all too well. In just a few chapters, he too will die, leaving behind a weeping mother. John 19:26 recounts Jesus giving Mary into the care of “the disciple whom he loved.” But the widow of Nain, it seems, has no one.

In his poignant poem, “The Widow of Nain,”[2] Scottish-born poet John Dunmore Lang (1799 – 1878) describes the scenes of Luke 7:11-16:

Slowly and sad a funeral-train

Advances from the gates of Nain,

As Jesus walks along the plain.

The corse they bear—a widow’s son!

Ah! how she weeps! her hope is gone,

And she is friendless and alone!

Jesus sees the woman and, Luke says, “he had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13). With the comforting words, “Do not weep,” Jesus approaches the bier. Luke tells us that “he touched the bier, and the bearers stood still” (Luke 7:14). Have you noticed how tangible some of Jesus’ healings are? Touching the leper, putting spit on a man’s tongue, rubbing clay on a man’s eyes, and now touching a bier. According to Mosaic Law, such corpse-contamination would defile him (Num. 19:11). Jesus is not worried about that. He addresses the boy, “‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak” (Luke 7:14).

It is worth noting that this act is not only a miracle, it is an act of social justice. Widows were a vulnerable demographic, along with the fatherless and sojourners. Old Testament laws regarding their welfare make it clear that the community was responsible for their care (Example: Deut. 24:19-21). Jesus’ took that responsibility to a new level in resurrecting the widow’s son.

Jesus’ sympathy goes beyond emotional pity or sorrow to find expression in action. He fights back against that which oppresses humanity, whether death, sickness, socio-religious manipulation, or any other result of sin. In Matthew 14:14, Jesus saw the great crowd and not only “had compassion on them,” he “healed their sick.” Through his sympathetic actions, he subverts the devil’s domination of the world. His miracles are not so much supernatural as they are a restoration of perfect creation. As Jürgen Moltmann states in his book The Way of Jesus Christ, Jesus miracles “are the only truly ‘natural’ thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.”[3]

Jesus’ greatest act of compassion occurred on the cross. The characters are familiar: a grieving mother, a dead son, and a group of mourners. But through his death and resurrection, he won the battle against all sin. “Finally, with the resurrection of Christ, the new creation begins, pars pro toto, with the crucified one.”[4]

The compassion of Christ continued after his Ascension. Ellen White writes in Desire of Ages, “He who stood beside the sorrowing mother at the gate of Nain, watches with every mourning one beside the bier. He is touched with sympathy for our grief. His heart, that loved and pitied, is a heart of unchangeable tenderness. His word, that called the dead to life, is no less efficacious now than when spoken to the young man of Nain. He says, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." Matt. 28:18. That power is not diminished by the lapse of years, nor exhausted by the ceaseless activity of His overflowing grace. To all who believe on Him He is still a living Saviour.”[5]

In the story of the widow of Nain, we see a compassionate God, a God who overcomes evil, and a God who brings life to the dead. Surely the life he offers is not to those who are only physically dead. John Dunmore Lang concludes his poem with the following lines:

Jesus, my God! I too am dead

In sin, and quickly were I laid

In hell for ay, without thine aid!

But if thou say, “Young man, arise,”

Soon shall I ope my closed eyes,

And wake to life and heavenly joys![6]

To the oppressed, the grieving, and the spiritually dead, Jesus offers overflowing life. His sympathy extends beyond pity offered at arms-length or institutionalized welfare. His sympathy goes to the heart of the problem—evil—and attacks it. In the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, we too can be agents of militant sympathy, assaulting the norm of pain and suffering by pointing to one who suffered on our behalf. By following Christ’s example, we can embrace the suffering world and offer more than just a Band-Aid for its wounds. We can show it how to be healed.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 99.

[6] Lang, “The Widow of Nain.”

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

This election cycle is Demonstrating the callus side of fundamentalism. No longer a city set on a hill. TZ

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I appreciate this lovely homily by Sarah.

The key to Luke’s Christology is Greek mythology. Luke is strongly influenced by the myth of Hermes and characterizes Jesus as a Hermes or the superior of Hermes. Luke intentionally shapes his stories about Jesus for the purpose of evoking Hermes in the minds of the intended readers. For example, as Hermes was the child of the immortal Zeus and the mortal nymph Maia, Luke depicts Jesus as the son of God and the mortal Mary. Notice how meticulously Luke marshals evidence about Jesus’ miraculous birth. Here’s another example: as Hermes the trickster babe steals Apollo’s cattle and successfully defends himself before Zeus with convincing rhetoric, Jesus the boy wanders away and defends himself before His parents with convincing rhetoric. Luke-Acts is full of allusions to Hermes.

In the story of the widow of Nain, we see Jesus appear to the funeral procession on the road outside the city gate. This location is precisely where one would expect to see Hermes, the god of the perimeters and roads. Notice the prominence of roads in Luke’s stories. There is the road to Jerusalem. There is the road to Emmaus. In Acts, Phillip functions as a Hermes by bringing understanding to the Ethiopian on the road. In the story of the widow of Nain, Luke represents that Jesus is superior to Hermes. If Hermes meets the funeral procession, he guides the deceased to the underworld (the place that everyone goes to when they die) and helps mediate the distance that exists between life and death. In contrast, Jesus overcomes and defeats death. No doubt, many of Luke’s readers steeped in Greek mythology exclaimed upon reading this story: Oh, what a Savior!

The one and only biblical author who is a bona fide hermeneutist is Luke. Luke not only understands, and understands that he understands, he also understands, as evidenced by his writings, that there is a philosophical problem with understanding. Long before Gadamer wrote Truth and Method, long before the convention arose that the study of hermeneutics took a philosophical turn with the writings of Gadamer, Luke set forth his philosophical hermeneutics in Luke-Acts.


There are those that would make it Luke-Acts-Hebrews, moving above and beyond trite Judaism.

Glory to God.


I did read something recently that there was some question as Luke might have been the Author of Hebrews.

Edit-- Grouch
Phil was referencing that the ORIGINAL communication of both “Luke” and Acts was to a person of Greek heritage and culture. So it makes sense that Dr. Luke would show that Christ was superior to Hermes and why.

WHO is the “we” who have had “enough”?
The Righteous “Had Enough” back 1000 to 800 B.C. Read the Psalms. Isa. Jer. Minor Prophets.
The “wicked” are apparently oblivious that there is an Escape Button. Even back then [if you read The Widsom Of Solomon is some Bibles] it was Who Gets the Most Toys — WINS. The grave was the end.
So enjoy life to the fullest NOW!.. Way back then.

And people wonder why there is so much confusion and heresy in the church.

How about this: Luke was strongly influenced by the Holy Spirit, who inspired him to write the things he did.

Are the “horrors,” found in today’s world really worse than those in the ancient world, before the First Coming: public executions (like crucifixion, for example), torture of enemies, child sacrifice, cannibalism, running a sword through pregnant women, temple prostitution.

God is love, and is not responsible for evil in the world. Maybe look for another entity to blame.

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Thank you Sarah Burton for your valiant attempt to depict Christ as a sympathetic figure!
The quote you use from EGW’s DESIRE OF AGES rings hollow:
“His heart, that loved and pitied, is a heart of unchangeable tenderness …
“All power is given to me in heaven and earth.” Mathew 28:18.
That power is not diminished by the lapse of years.”

If after the lapse of a century, following her demise, EGW, like Rip van Winkle would be here now, would she pen those same words??

She would not need “visions”-- we would show her the modern atrocities involving children-- today’ “widows’ sons”. —as depicted almost nightly on PBS’ NEWS HOUR.

Three hundred young Christian school girls abducted to become sex slaves in Nigeria; child soldiers forced to behead victims by ISIS; child soldiers in Somalia’s civil war; hundreds of children of migrants drowned at sea in desperate crossings to attain safety; every week, a million new babies born, most in appalling shanty towns, or abject slums, with many dying from starvation or dysentery, before the age of five; the millions of children assassinated in the genocides of the Holocaust, Armenian, Bosnian, Rwandan, Pol Pot genocides; ZIKA babies born with heads the size of oranges; ad nauseum.

That Christ, supposedly, having “all power in heaven and earth”, and supposedly a “heart of unchangeable tenderness” would watch these horrors with total equanimity, unmoved, and not hasten nor advance His Second Coming is unfathomable.

What an avalanche of anguish, what an accumulation of atrocities, what an appalling amount of agony, would have been ABBREVIATED, nay, ABORTED, had Christ advanced His coming, by even one hundred years!

He delays His Coming to what end? So that His father can have another century of atrocities to “vindicate” Himself in His obsession to contrast Himself with Satan?? At least that is what EGW implies, in her Great Controversy dogma!

“Unchangeable tenderness” does not come readily to mind as I watch the evening news.

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The “Hour” is completely at the discretion of the Father, not The Son. He already has shown perfect mercy by humbling Himself incarnate in order that we may acquire His perfection by grace through faith.

Your ranting would more accurately be directed at God the Father, although I wish you didn’t feel the need to. I really doubt that you have the firepower to change the Almighty’s sovereign will for this planet.

Have you considered at least putting some of the blame on Lucifer?

It is unfortunate that the word empathy was not present until 1909 when the psychologist Edward Titchener translated the German word “einfuhlung” to empathy because that is exactly what Jesus showed and manifested. It captures the very essence of Jesus being among us. Sympathy is Jesus feels sorry for us whereas empathy is Jesus knows and feels our sorrow.


It’s not about God having enough of human suffering. It’s about us having had enough.


Socially Radical Jesus

When Christians think of the sympathy of Jesus they find nothing new. However, according to Roman Ethics showing compassion and mercy could result in personal disaster.

Roman morality had more to do with the pursuit of one’s own happiness and well-being. How we should live to make a good life for ourselves. Courage, manliness and strength was the specific virtues of Rome. Prayer to Roman gods was for personal safety, success and direction. Cruelly to slaves, captatives, one’s enemies was normalized, not prohibited by the gods.

Romans regarded women’s bodies to be feeble, brains deficient and emotions unstable thus not able to make rational decisions. Most Roman men would agree with this. Euripides (d 406 BC) believed that women were handicapped in intellect. Slaves could be worked to death in the mines or on farms with no public or private guilt.

Jesus was at direct odds with the Greek-Roman culture of his day. The high value placed on sympathy, compassion, pity and unselfish love is the heart of Christianity exposing the roots of paganism.

Sadly, often the post NT church claimed the name of Jesus while they held to paganism core values—hatred (lack of sympathy) for minorities, Jews, and those who believed un-orthodox doctrines. Is paganism still alive today inside the church alter?