Back in the early 1980s, one of my favorite television shows was “Knight Rider.” The series was about a young man, Michael Knight, and the ‘Super,’ car he owned, K.I.T.T. (Knight industries two thousand). The car was by far the star of the show. KITT could interact with people conversationally. He also had a “Super pursuit mode,” enabling him to go over 300 miles per hour. And there was the always amusing rocket that allowed the car to jump over other vehicles. Each week, Michael and KITT would help people who needed rescuing, were being threatened, abused, or threatened with death.
At the beginning of the show, the tagline was, “One man can make a difference.”
One man and one woman can indeed make a difference in our lives and in the world. When I think about individuals who have had an enormous impact on the world, I think of people like Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther, Clara Barton, and Jesus Christ.
Several months ago, I entered a writing contest. I do this every few months to challenge myself. Unfortunately, I’ve never won a prize or even received an honorable mention. But that’s okay because it’s also my way of honing my writing skills.
The writing contests I enter send me a story premise, usually just a few sentences long. I don’t have to use the exact words; I simply need to use the premise in the story I write. The participants are given a set amount of words they must not go over, such as 900 words. The most words I’ve been allowed to use in any contest is 1900 words. And, you must write your story, give it a title and have it turned in by email in 24 hours. (As I said, I do it to challenge myself.)
Here is the story I wrote and turned in several months ago; I added a few paragraphs to hopefully enhance the narrative for you.
Standing at her tenth-floor office window, Rebecca looked out over the city of Manhattan. She stared blankly, barely noticing the crowded streets of taxis and people. Her mind was elsewhere. Rebecca’s life had changed quite a bit over the past twenty-two years since that cold autumn night she spent in that abandoned hunting shack in rural Kentucky.
There were other young girls like herself in and outside of the building that night. Some had run away from home, while others just didn’t want to go home.
Rebecca was one of the younger girls gathered there; she was only thirteen. She stood out from the rest of the girls because of her translucent white skin, flaming red hair, and the thing people stared at and asked about the most, her pink eyes. Rebecca unquestionably stood out in a crowd. She still did.
Now, Rebecca was 5’10” tall, slim, with that head of flaming red hair. She still had pink eyes, but they were different now. When she looked at someone, they felt she was looking into their soul, or as her fiancé Jeff always said, “I get lost in your eyes every time I look at you.”
Jeff was a high school math teacher that Rebecca had met two years earlier at a company Christmas party. He was a friend of one of the office staffers. When Rebecca was introduced to him, they hit it off immediately. They talked for hours that night, and now this man she loved would soon be her husband.
Yes, a lot had changed over the years. Nevertheless, she went back to school, received her associate degree at a local community college, and was offered a scholarship to N.Y.U. After that, it was off to law school, where she studied family law, graduating in the top one percent of her class. After law school, she landed an entry-level position at the firm of Brookes & Ferman in New York.
Now, here she was looking out the window, reminiscing and looking expectantly forward at the same time. She had a great job, and she was engaged to be married in the fall. The fall, perhaps that’s why her thoughts had drifted back to the run-down cabin in the woods. Because it was there, her life changed forever. It was there she met Jill.
Jill was the only person who had spoken to her that night. She was the one who rescued her from her abysmal life. Jill was different than the other girls at the cabin. She was engaging, funny, but most of all, she was empathetic. That’s because she didn’t have to be there; she chose to be there.
Rebecca smiled as she remembered Jill’s first words to her, as she huddled lonely and afraid in the corner of the cabin that night. “Hey, red, truth or dare?” Rebecca had looked up and saw this smiling blonde girl. She guessed she was at least five years older than her. Jill was wearing a winter coat, and her hair was done up in a ponytail.
Rebecca had said, “What?” Jill replied, “You heard me red; I said truth or dare?” Rebecca just stuttered and replied, “I, I, don’t know what you mean?” Jill smiled at her and said, “I’m just messing with you, so what’s your story? Why are you here?”
No one had ever asked her that before. And that’s when Rebecca began to cry. Jill immediately walked over to her and sat beside Rebecca. She slowly took her hand, squeezed it a bit, and said, “It’s okay red, let it out, and then we’ll talk.”
And talk they did almost all night. She poured out her heart to Jill, and Jill told her about herself. Rebecca’s dad had passed away two years earlier, and her mother remarried last year. Her new stepdad turned out to be abusive, both physically and mentally, to her. She had left home that night and had vowed to never go back to the abuse she had been enduring.
Jill was nineteen and worked and lived at a shelter for homeless and lost young girls. But, even more importantly, she was a Christian. That night Jill prayed with and for Rebecca. Then, as the sun rose that morning, Jill took her to a new home at the Christian shelter in downtown Louisville.
That’s where Rebecca’s like changed. She received support, housing, counseling, and encouragement to return to school. It all started with a stranger, Jill, showing empathy, and taking a chance on a young runaway who was lost.
Suddenly Rebecca was drawn back to reality when her cell phone rang. She turned and picked it up. Rebecca smiled because the screen on her phone read, Jill. “Hi Jill,” Rebecca said as she answered the phone. Jill opened their conversation with the exact words she had spoken to her twenty-two years ago. “Hey, red, truth or dare?” They had been talking and reminiscing for a few minutes when the buzzer on her office phone went off. She told Jill she’d call her back later and hung up. Rebecca pressed the flashing button on her office phone and said, “Yes?” “Mr. Brookes would like to see you in his office right away.” Rebecca replied, “Thank You.”
She walked down to her boss’s office and knocked on the door. A voice said, “Rebecca, please come in, have a seat.”
What came next was hoped for but unexpected. Mr. Brookes began, “Rebecca, you’ve been with our firm for ten years now. You are our best family law attorney. Because of your dedication and caring attitude not only to the firm but also to our clients, I would like to offer you a junior partnership at Brookes and Ferman.”
Yes. A lot had changed in the last twenty-two years. All because of a girl named Jill who took the time to care.
Although the above story is fiction, perhaps, we should add Jill to the list of those who helped changed someone’s world and life for the better.
At this point, it would be relatively easy to transition into all the things Jesus did in His ministry that changed the world and our lives today. He was a healer, a servant, a son to His family, and a brother to all. Jesus showed the world the importance of women, as well as children. He never mistreated a woman or talked down to them. That brings me to my point.
Jesus was empathetic.
Let’s look at the woman caught in adultery.
“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. ”Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:2-11 (N.I.V.)
Before I get into the empathy shown in this story, I have to point out one thing that always bothers me about this passage. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus to be judged. They are trying to trap Him into going against Jewish law, which says the woman should be stoned because she was caught in adultery.
Caught in adultery? That means they must have somehow caught her in the act. So here, this poor woman is probably sparsely dressed. But wait, where’s the guy. Jewish law says that both the man and woman should be stoned.
What a bunch of hypocrites manipulating the laws to suit their wants and needs. (Not trying to be political here, but this is just too much in your face, not to mention.)
Okay, so back to empathy. Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman have identified three components of empathy. Cognitive, Emotional, and Compassionate. Let’s break the three-down as they pertain to this Bible story.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how people feel and what they might be thinking.
When we look back at this Bible story, Jesus surely understands how the woman caught in adultery feels. But not because of a like experience, but rather because he would continue to be persecuted during His ministry. We know this woman was being persecuted for something she did that was against Jewish law. Yet, she was being mistreated at the same time because she was singled out. After all, she was a woman. And, the woman was being used as a pawn to trap Jesus into not adhering to the law.
Jesus knew exactly how this woman felt and the thoughts that were racing through her mind.
Emotional empathy is the ability to share the feeling of another.
This one is a bit trickier to see. If Jesus could empathize with how the woman felt, you can be sure he could also feel how she felt. She was being reprimanded, dragged through the streets, and used as an example to others.
Perhaps, Jesus was thinking about His own future when He would be rebuked and beaten by the High Priest and soldiers. He knew that someday soon, He too would be dragging His own body through the streets of Jerusalem while carrying the cross He would be crucified on. And yes, Jesus was killed, partly as an example who would think about going against Jewish customs and laws.
Compassionate empathy moves someone to act and help in any way they can.
Interestingly enough, in this case, Jesus’ actions appear to be inaction. When the teacher of the law and the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus concerning the woman’s adultery, He kneels down and begins writing in the sand, not once but twice.
It’s one of the many great unanswered questions in the Bible. What was Jesus writing on the ground? I like to believe that He was writing the sins of the woman’s accusers in the dirt. And when He finally replied to the crowd that whoever had never sinned before should throw the first stone, we see an almost unexpected reaction. One by one, the accusers drop their stones and walk away, leaving only Jesus and the accused Woman in that area of the temple court.
The accusers had realized that they like the woman were sinners in their own right. And when Jesus addresses the woman, He says, woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
That day Jesus showed the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the people in the temple court, and the woman that sin is sin. We are all sinners. Jesus told the woman He wasn’t going to accuse or condemn her. Instead, He (probably very quietly and compassionately said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.
Compassionate, empathetic, loving, caring. This is the type of person we should strive to be like every day, be more like Jill, but most of all be more like Jesus, and sin no more.