Day 8 Jesus is the Great High Priest
耶穌,我們神聖的同理者 (Taiwanese)

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. – Hebrews 4:14

Traditional Chinese culture alludes to three fundamentals in establishing interpersonal relations and maintaining social order: emotions, reason, and law (情理法). While western culture prioritises reason and law when navigating social life, Chinese culture puts human emotional ties first. However, we now live in the day and age characterised by increasing individualism, technological advancement, and modern-day busyness, so empathy towards others is increasingly rare. Aren’t we already hard-pressed in attending to our own lives? How do we squeeze in time and emotions for others? Our prolonged connectivity with our electronic devices rather than the person next to us makes us cold, mechanical, and unsociable. Even family members are estranged from each other despite common bloodlines. Meanwhile, the poor, the bullied, the refugee, the sick, the depressed, the aging, and the bereaved among us are increasing in escalating numbers. 

“Empathy is the primary ability needed when helping people,” say our modern psychiatrists.  But how do we nurture empathy? They suggest two ways. The first way, personal experience, can naturally develop in us a sense of empathy for others. We can understand and share in the trauma of others because we’ve experienced it before ourselves. The second way is vicarious experience whereby we develop empathy by relating to another’s struggle through careful listening and imagination. 

But even our most well-intentioned human empathy fails us at times. For example, my niece and nephew suffer deeply with anxiety. The nature of mental illness is so personal that when the cloud of darkness encircles them, even words of encouragement and prayers from dearest friends and family are not enough to drive it away. Perhaps you, too, have experienced a heavy, painful burden that even the kindest, most empathetic friend could not alleviate. Jesus, our great high priest, provides a balm to these wounds.

Hebrews 4:15 reveals to us that Jesus empathises with our weaknesses. His ability to understand and share in our human pain, loss, shame, and hopelessness came through personal experience. He was despised and rejected. He was misunderstood and abandoned by those close to Him. On the cross, Jesus experienced the unfathomable sense of abandonment, darkness, and alienation from God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He even experienced the evil of death itself. Jesus need not imagine our pain, nor trade places with us; He genuinely shares the feelings of fear, alienation, and evil that surround us. Yet, Jesus has overcome them. Jesus is the first fruit of resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20-28). Hebrews 4:14 says Jesus has ascended into heaven where He now sits in the presence of God the Father. Here is the good news: Jesus’ personal experience of death and resurrection promises tremendous comfort to us in our mental anguish.

Moreover, Jesus does not merely identify with us; He actively intercedes on our behalf. When our language fails to even narrate our anxiety and hopelessness, Jesus takes over and offers up our needs in “prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears” before the gracious throne of our God the Father (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus cries with and for us. His tender compassion embraces us. His ability to empathise pours out in His ministry of intercession.  This does not mean that things quickly resolve. It does mean that we are not alone, forgotten, or misunderstood as we persevere through the darkness until all things are made new. 

Our passage exhorts us to cultivate strong confidence in Jesus’ priestly role. His path of obedience to the will of God the Father assures us that He has the empathy we all need. Especially in the darkness, we need faith to believe in this truth. So, we pray for spiritual eyes in order to see ourselves “brought up to heaven”—in prayer now and in reality one day–with and by Jesus. 

As we walk through this Advent season, may we recognise the humble birth of Jesus as a signpost pointing us to His life vocation as our divine empathiser.  

Dr Shirley S. Ho is Associate Professor of Old Testament at China Evangelical Seminary, Taiwan. Her research interest is in Old Testament Wisdom Literature, especially Proverbs. She loves teaching, mentoring and being a friend to her students.

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