Even though the Christian Bible is filled with Jesus’ acts and words urging selfless behavior and unconditional love towards righteous and sinner alike, I identified an overwhelming emphasis on the virtue of empathy in his model and teachings, even though the word empathy itself has not been mentioned anywhere explicitly in the text but implied: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Empathy is generally defined as attempting to understand someone’s situation or feelings by identifying oneself with them, or imagining oneself in their place. So, empathy is evident even in the terms a command as basic as “love thy neighbor” has been formulated: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”” (Galatians 5:14). It is interesting to note that this urges not just to love your neighbor in any extent, for that could have been understood to mean that even loving slightly or being faintly concerned about them was enough. But this adds an empathetic sense to the command by stressing that one’s love and concern for the neighbor should be matched by one’s concern for one’s own comforts.
The following formulation “do not do unto others what you would not want to be done unto you” has been attributed to Jewish rabbis as well as Confucius’ thought. However, it is interesting how Jesus takes this formulation and transforms it from a command to refrain into a command to act: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law of the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). One can spend a life of inaction and become complacent, deeming oneself to be virtuous on account that one is not causing anybody else any harm. Thus, merely avoiding action which causes others harm is not enough, but you should proactively work and seek to benefit them in ways you want to be benefitted, even if it means suffering to bring good for others: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This attitude is clearly evident in Jesus’ own lifestyle whereby he not only sympathized with the helpless (“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36)) but also went around helping the weak and curing the sick: “This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17). In fact, it can be argued that the whole idea of Jesus suffering for the sins of others is grounded in the virtue of empathy: “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). An act of empathy would also include that instead of preoccupying oneself with one’s own salvation, one should also encourage others to do good and thus effect their salvation as well: “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrew 10:24-25). Thus, the principle of empathy can be identified working behind almost all aspects of social ethic preached by Jesus.