Hebrews 4:15 (NRSV) -
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
Hebrews is like a new album that you listen to and, about halfway through it, you think to yourself, “It can’t possibly get any better than this, right?” Oh! But, then it does!
The end of chapter four reiterates who exactly Jesus is. The verse that we are focusing on reveals to us that Jesus, in addition to being Lord, Savior, King, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Immanuel, and so on, is our High Priest. This is a title that the Jewish people in the first few decades after Jesus’ death would have been able to get with, so to speak. After all, the name of the book is Hebrews. The audience is very specific, therefore they needed specific examples. This is analogous to highlighting the words or story of Biggie or Jay in our Brooklyn context to bring to life a point or a story from scripture, which is not always easily digestible.
Nevertheless, the role of the high priests, as they would have understood, is to be the intermediaries between the people and God specifically for the forgiveness of sins. They would have been the only ones who could enter the Holy of Holies.
Our High Priest in Jesus is one who knows pain, heartache, struggle, suffering, and, quite simply, knows what it is to be a human being in what can feel like an increasingly hostile world. He knew this in everyday life and especially when he was accused, tried, convicted, tortured, and executed. He knew this when he was tested by the devil in the wilderness. He knew this as he cried over his friend dying. He knew this as he was hungry and thirsty and tired. He knew this as he was betrayed. He knew this as he did ministry with the homies’ day in and day out.
That is what has always intrigued me most about our faith. Relationship is what it’s all about. The Lord I serve, with all power in His hands, who defeated death also understands what I’m going through day in and day out. He understands what I’m feeling. He understands when things get difficult and I feel overwhelmed. He understands that sometimes I just feel like I need this cup to pass from me. Yeah!
We have a savior and king who in every way knows what we’re going through. And that’s good news! That’s a healthy reminder! That’s reassurance! The word that most accurately describes this is empathy. It’s a beautiful thing when others empathize with you, your circumstances, and your struggles.
Jesus empathizes with me, with us. And empathy is what we all need right now. It’s what our country and world need right now. You may not have the exact same experiences as someone else, but you should be able to empathize with them, their circumstances, and struggles. I may not be a Black Woman, but I have experiences as a Black man of being overlooked, talked down to, disrespected and more, which allows me to empathize with Black Women who face this treatment as a Black person and as a Woman. Empathy encourages me not to use my heterosexual maleness over Black Women and LGBTQ persons in the same way that many white people use their whiteness over people of color. And, empathy encourages me to stand up against mistreatment and the weaponization of privilege when others I know or even those who I do not know are doing so to Black Women, LGBTQ persons or anyone else who might be in a less privileged capacity than me.
When we fail to empathize with others, we fail to see them.
When we fail to empathize with others, we fail to be in community.
When we fail to empathize with others, we fail to love others.
When we fail to empathize with others, we fail to be like Jesus.
Let’s be like Jesus, our High Priest, who possessing all the power of the universe still empathizes with us no matter how low or high we may be.
Peace and Love