African Swahili for ‘empathy’ is ‘poli’, literally “I feel your toothache!” If ‘sympathy’ is to say, “That must hurt”, ‘empathy’ is trying to feel yourself into someone’s situation, shoes, gums, bones and soul. Observers of Western society say that empathy has much reduced in recent years and is in short supply, “No one understands!” a common cry.

Aged 13 Steve asked his church minister if God knew beforehand which finger Steve was about to raise. “Yes, of course he did.” Came the quick answer. Follow-up question, “Did God foreknow about the starving infants in Africa?” Again, the pastor was too quick to answer and suggested that these things were beyond Steve’s understanding. Alas, ‘Steve Jobs’, the late great entrepreneur, media guru and founder of Apple Inc, turned his back on church and possibly on God too(?).

Perhaps being less defensive and more interested in Steve Job’s real tooth ache, things could have been different. He could have ended up empathising with Steve over his personal pain of being bullied at school, anxiety over his step-parents’ precarious finances, and his sense of rejection due to his birth parents putting him up for adoption.

Forrest Gump remembered well the bus ride on his first day of school. His mother had encouraged him to do well in school. The lonely and frightened boy, with big silver leg-braces, boarded the gigantic yellow bus. Walking down the aisle searching for a seat, he heard, “Seat’s taken.” Further on, “Taken.” Anything for a friendly face, “You can’t sit here!”

How unfriendly the world can be! How many hurting and afflicted people get on the world’s bus looking for a place, longing for compassion and kindness, only to find rejection?  Forrest says, “I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas, and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the whole wide world (A kind little girl named Jenny said), “You can sit here if you want.”

Jesus shows us the way of heart felt compassion towards the lost, least, and lonely. Simon Reed is quoted in Ray Simpson’s inspiring book ‘St Aidan’s Way of Mission’, “The Celtic Christianity of Aidan & Hilda shows us people with their eyes on the sun and mud on their knees. They are at home in the glory of the ascension and in the darkness of the tomb. They burn with the love of God and bleed in their own bodies with the pains of this world. They live in connection with the scriptures and the Spirit, the saints and the streets, the seasons and the soil.”

Recent experience on a Glasgow bus gives a more hopeful story: ‘The bedraggled, worn-out old woman got on, and before anyone could move, the 6’4” shaved-head guy with Spider-Man tattoo across his face jumped up to help, putting all her bags in the racks and helping her into what was his seat. The exhausted mum tried to manhandle her wheelchair-bound, severely disabled daughter (early teens) on to the bus, when three teens instantly rose to ably assist. Martin getting on asked the driver if the route went a certain way only for the man behind him to say, “I know where that is, son; I’ll let you know when we get there.” This was Tommy, aged 83, who not only offered directions, but walked Martin to his destination, despite it being two miles from where he should have got off. Trying to resist such ‘above and beyond’ kindness, Martin was told by Tommy, “At my age, there’s no much else you can do but help people…” Earthy empathy and humble humanity at its best!