Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 21. Bruised Reeds
Mt 12:20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.
We remind ourselves that this series of studies are all about pictures in Matthew’s Gospel – mostly pictures used by Jesus in his teaching but occasionally pictures in other contexts. This is one of those latter ones and it is a picture conveyed in a prophetic quote by Matthew as he takes a quote from Isa 42:1-4.
To see the significance of it we have to see why Matthew uses this quote and we see the reason in the preceding verses: “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah.” (v.15-17) It was the fact that Jesus was healing people but doing it in such a quiet way, even instructing them not to tell about him. How different from so many TV ‘ministries’ today who shout their wares and want to be heard and seen wherever possible. Both John and Jesus carried out their ministries in this way. John went into the desert and the people flocked to him there. Why? Because God was with him. Jesus again and again tried to minister discretely often telling people to keep to themselves what had happened to them, and yet he knew that nevertheless the word would spread and the crowds get great as to sometimes be a problem in their size.
We need to examine the quote from Matthew in a little detail: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” (v.18) Jesus the Son, chosen by the father for this particular task, loved by the Father, the one who gave delight to the Father, the one on whom the Father released the Spirit without measure, to bring about justice for the world – as we would come to see through the Cross.
Justice? Justice can sometimes be seen as bringing about a balancing out of fairness by dealing with wrongs so that the offended are satisfied. Satan would accuse God of turning a blind eye to the sins of mankind, sins so contrary to everything God holds to be good, and yet things that were left not dealt with, because if they were dealt with, every single human being should be executed. It is an unrighteous blemish on the perfect design of God. What is to be done? If the world is to be saved, is to be given a chance to survive the demands of the executioner, then someone needs to step in and take the punishment for each person, but it would have to be someone who is not guilty themselves otherwise there was no way they could step in on someone else’s behalf. Is there such a person? Are there such a number of such people to save enough sinners? The only answer is the perfect Son of God himself, this eternal being, only he is ‘big enough’ to be able to stand in for every person. Would every person be saved? Well, they could be saved because he has stood in for every single human being who ever existed, but it is up to them to claim that salvation. That is what this ‘chosen one’ would do on the Cross.
But then Isaiah prophesies of the way he will go about his business: “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.” (v.19) He will attract people who want to be good by his own goodness, he will attract those who want to experience the love of God, by presenting that love, but as we’ve seen before, he will not cast his ‘pearls’ before those who would simply trample them under foot.
And then we come to this most significant of pictures: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (v.20a) A reed in that part of the world was not merely a leaf, but nearer to what we would call bamboo, a stiff plant used in Scripture as a measuring rod, or even a walking stick. A ‘bruised’ reed is one that has been damaged. So often the world has looked at damaged people and written them off. We enjoy a world of celebrities, people who look strong and handsome, rich and well of, but Jesus comes to the broken. In the UK in particular we live in a nation that has sought in recent decades to show real concern for the disabled, to enable them to participate in life as much as possible, but in history generally that hasn’t been so. But it doesn’t matter how you define ‘broken’ when it comes to people, Jesus doesn’t reject them (break them) but receives them and heals them. That is what the Gospels show.
Then there is the ‘smoldering wick’, the picture of a candle that has almost been blown out but continues smoldering. Out tendency would be to wet our fingers and completely put it out and stop it smoking, but Jesus doesn’t do that. I have often suggested that there is a tendency among certain groups of Christians to only focus on ‘victory’ and to be ultra-positive, and the truth is that we are ALL failures and damaged and then, if we are Christians, redeemed!
The apostle Paul in his famous treatise on justification by faith in Romans, declares, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) I would suggest that that Rom 3 quote has two aspects to it: first our moral failure and then because of that failure, second, we are damaged goods and nothing like God originally designed us to be. Now although the power of Sin is broken the moment we come to Christ and he puts his own Holy Spirit within us, the truth is that for the rest of our life he is gradually changing us to be more like him. See 2 Cor 3:18 – “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”
The truth is twofold: first we no longer HAVE to sin and yet we are prone to tripping over our feet, if I may put it like that, which is why the apostle John wrote, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1) He knew that this side of heaven, in practical daily living, we would sometimes trip up. The second thing is this matter of being damaged; things happen to us in the ‘fallen world’ which leave us hurting and scarred and, yes, Jesus does want to bring healing to us, but sometimes it seems, that takes a long time. And in the meantime? A smoldering wick he will not snuff out
He is for us, he loves us and is simply waiting for another available vessel to be ready for him to use to bring our healing, for whatever it was that happened to us. Does that mean we are damaged goods and so are second rate? Definitely not. We are as loved by him as much as anyone else and he will bless us as much as we can receive. This is what is so incredible about this little picture: it applies to those who have yet to meet Jesus – and they don’t have to be healed up BEFORE he saved them – and it also applies to all of us who have been damaged by life, even after we came to Christ. The message that is shouted aloud by these prophetic words is He will NEVER write you off and is ALWAYS there for you. Rejoice in that, rejoice in his love and be ready to receive all he has for you.