Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
“A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax
He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory.”
(Matthew 12:20 and Isaiah 42:3)
A reed is a plant that grows in deep marshlands and is used to make such objects as pens, measuring sticks or rudimentary musical pipes. It is very fragile, bruises easily and snaps at the gentlest provocation. Similarly, if there is a lack of oil in a lamp, the wick will be snuffed out with nothing more than a little spark that will soon burn out. It is a fact that neither the reed nor the wick is an expensive item. Both are found in abundance and, if damaged, can easily be discarded and replaced. The beauty of their purpose is that each of these images is used by Isaiah to affirm the graciousness and love of our God. His response to our weakness is always indicative of His mercy, His compassion, and His never-ending love. When Isaiah speaks of the bruised reed, he is using it as an icon to describe the quiet, gentle, kind and loving manner of a God Who heals, Who saves, and does not discard. This servant as Jesus is proclaimed to be, is so low key that as He moves among the reeds, they do not break even if they have been bruised, or, in the case of the oil, even if they do not have the breath, the substance to continue giving light. God will not forsake His own; He will renew, refresh, replenish the strength of the reed and the wick, because they are images of His created children who are frail and fragile, bruised and empty.
In quoting this prophecy from Isaiah, Matthew was likening the bruised reed and the smoking wick to broken people. Do you feel bruised or lifeless? God gives you a promise. “The smoking flax I will not quench; the bruised reed I will not break.” Each of these figures - a bruised reed, a smoldering flax - is a metaphor that speaks of weakness; it implies a helplessness, an overwhelming emptiness, lack of strength, lack of purpose, fit only to be cast aside or rejected as inadequate and worthy of elimination. The Messiah as presented in the scriptures was the exact opposite of those whose brutality destroyed hope and replaced it with despair. This Jesus did not meet expectations. He did not have an agenda apart from forgiving, saving, redeeming, offering eternity to the bruised reeds and the smoldering wicks of humanity. This messiah rode a donkey, the colt of an ass, with meekness and humility; “He did not cry out, did not lift up His voice or make it heard in the street….”
William Hendrickson, the commentator, puts it like this: “What a contrast between the cruelty of the Pharisees and the kindness of Jesus, between their vanity and His reserve, between their love for display and His meekness. It's a picture of frailty, of brittleness, of purposelessness, of weakness, of spiritual poverty, of the sense of being despised.” It might even be a figure for those who are at their lowest point and have forgotten their desire for God. It might represent those whose spirits are wounded because a reed is a cylinder, there's nothing in the middle of it - and when the reed is bruised, its strength is destroyed. None of us will go through life without being hurt, rejected, criticized, maligned or offended. The question is, “How will we respond?”
Will it be with anger or resentment, a promise of retaliation and revenge, or will we respond with the gentleness of Jesus? It is imperative that we focus on this gentle Jesus; otherwise, we will yield to anger and perhaps with hate-filled feelings. The choice is ours and only we can respond to the hurt imposed by others. Jesus encourages us through this scripture passage of forgiveness, healing and compassion to see ourselves and others as God sees us. We are chosen, unique, precious and valuable, despite our fragility, our frailty. We are better than the response of a world that strikes out, resents, and seeks reparation and restitution. May we resolve to protect the broken reed, the smoldering wick, for that is the way of Jesus Who through this poignant metaphor, calls us to bestow peace and to be peace.
Sr. Anne Daniel Young, OP