Jesus sees the blind man and asks: What do you want me to do for you? (Mk 10:51) Does he not realize that the man wants to regain his eyesight? How can he be so un-sympathetic? We encounter here the difference between being sympathetic and empathetic. Being sympathetic is feeling compassion and pity for another, which is a good thing, but the empathetic puts himself in the place of the other without mingling his own ideas, advice or even personal issues with the one in need. “I feel so sorry for you. You know, I once had the same problem; this is how I would solve it …” Empathy, instead, stands respectfully before the other individual. St. Benedict says in his Rule:
Precaution must be taken that no monk presume on any occasion to defend another in the monastery [præsumat alter alium defendere] or as it were to take him under his protection, even if they are related by the closest ties of blood. Rule of St. Benedict 69:1
What sounds harsh is rather St. Benedict trusting deeply that Christ dwells in everyone so that His life, His truth, and His grace will finally come forward and prevail. We tend to make the case of others our own case very quickly. We band together and fight for certain goals, often as long as our lives are not really touched. We don’t notice that we do our own thing, assuming and presuming. Jesus acts differently. He truly tends to the person and gets involved, but lets the blind man still have the control. He is not patronizing him. Empathy respects boundaries. It is not me who knows best what the other needs. It is he or she herself. Or shouldn’t we rather say: it is God. Like Jesus we can become channels of God’s love for others. If the blind man sadly would prefer to stay blind, Jesus would respect it. Jesus follows whatever the man wants God to do for him.
Christ, help me to listen. What is my brother, my sister actually saying when they talk to me? What does the other really need? Let me respect the intimacy that is between you and him. Let me be engaged to the fullest and at the same time stay totally out of the way, and mind my own business. I don’t have the answer. You have it. You will care for him as you care for me.