The early Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, and in particular, Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s “suffering servant”. Matthew writes: “Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick until he brings justice to victory.’” (Matthew 12:15-20)

Reading the gospel stories of Jesus’ interaction with people, especially with people who were outcasts or were on the lower rungs of society, one is struck by the compassion and understanding Jesus demonstrates. Many of the people who met Jesus were “bruised reeds” or “smouldering wicks”. They were looked down upon, and had been mistreated by religious, social or civic leaders. Jesus treated them gently and kindly, healed their afflictions, offered forgiveness, and showed God’s love. A bruised reed is safe in Jesus’ hand.

There were many bruised reeds in our Jesus’ world and there are many in our world. People are hurt and weakened by the vicissitudes of life. Some have suffered chronic physical or mental health problems, some have been betrayed by a friend or spouse, some have been wounded by society or the economic system. We see these people every day, although usually we do not see their mental or emotional bruises. Most of us, at some time in our lives, are bruised reeds, so we know what it feels like to be hurt, vulnerable and weak.

A bruised reed is easy to break: apply a bit of pressure to the weak area and it snaps. Healing a bruised reed is not so easy: one must protect the bruised area and support the reed until strength is restored. Christians are called to heal the bruised reeds, and not to break them.

It is easy to attack someone who is vulnerable or weak. We seem to have a sense for weakness, and like predators in the wild, we lunge. Sometimes we do this physically, but more often we do it with words. It makes us feel superior, and we gloat, “I showed him.” This is the way of predators, but it is not the way of Jesus. As Christians, we are called to sense weakness, but rather than lunging we are called to support the person and to protect the bruise. We are called to heal and build up, not to break. In order to do this, we must put aside any feeling or belief that breaking a reed shows our superiority. Jesus teaches the opposite: that superiority lies in being willing to be broken in order to help the bruised.

We meet bruised reeds every day. We see people who are unemployed, sick, physically disabled, or scorned by ‘proper’ society. How we deal with the people we meet – what we say to them, what we think about them, whether we cross the street to avoid them – determines whether we are following Jesus’ example of healing bruised reeds or the worldly way of breaking them. If we decide to follow Jesus’ example of healing then there are times when we ourselves will be broken. We may be broken by critics who think we spend too much time with “the wrong sort” of people or we may be broken by someone we are trying to help. This was Jesus experience – he was criticized for keeping company with sinners and finally was executed in a plot by those he sought to help. We shouldn’t expect to be treated better than our master (Matthew 10:24). There is a risk in following Jesus, a risk in taking part in his mission of healing bruised reeds. But the bruised reeds in our world and in our lives need us to take the risk because only through Jesus, the suffering servant, can the needed healing come.

copyright by the author, 2014