“I know just how you must feel,” we often say to someone who is hurting. In actual truth we may have no idea how the person feels because we have never experienced the same suffering. On the other hand, when we really have known the same pain or loss, then we can share with the person meaningfully. A group of related words in the Greek New Testament deals with this idea.
Let’s start with the word pathos (PAH thoss). This meant generally any kind of suffering, calamity, passion, or intense emotional situation which befell someone. Now let’s add the prefix which will make the word mean to share together in such emotion: sympatheo (soom pah THEH oh). Our Engllsh word sympathy comes directly from this. Sympatheo does not, however, mean to have a weepy feeling which pities and condones everything. Rather, it is a deep appreciation for the seriousness of the situation, which comes when one knows the problem first-hand. This is the wonderful capacity of Jesus, our great high priest, in Hebrews 4:15.
Now let's add a different prefix and make a word which means to hold one's emotions under control, to moderate one’s passions: metriopatheo (meh tree oh pah THEH on). According to Hebrews 5:2 God always intended his high priests to be men who could carefully measure and moderate the intensity of their passion. Realization of their own weakness was to make them moderate their (justifiable) displeasure and anger at the sins of the people. As Neil Lightfoot has noted, however, “In point of fact, it was found in the life of no Levitical high priest and never existed until the Perfect Priest appeared. How wonderful that Christ possesses this metriopatheia!”