by Philip Brenizer
Sitting on a park bench one hot summer evening, Sue found herself wondering what her life truly had to offer other than emotional pain. Her life was in shambles. She had nowhere to turn, no one to love, and no known reason to live. Dave, her fiancé, had moved out, taking their two children to live with another woman. He had constantly reminded her she wasn’t fit to live with because of her drug problem. Truthfully, many days Dave found her passed out on the couch while the children played in the busy street without any parental supervision. Sue now remembered what her parents echoed as she was growing up – “You will never amount to anything!” It felt the closest thing to truth that she knew right now. Why should she live? No one was interested in her life. How could she ever find a job? She had been in and out of jail since stealing was the means to support her drug habit. Sue was bruised, and almost broken.
Whether we recognize it or not, the story of Sue and Dave is repeated in many forms in our world today. Every week most of us are directly involved with hurting and hopeless people. We struggle with how to restore their lives, and often even struggle with accepting them into our fellowship in a genuine way. Understanding God’s eternal perspective on the bruised is essential to our own ministry. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isa. 42:3, NIV). These words were spoken to a country which was about to face God’s judgment. There were horrific changes for its citizens on the horizon. Their homes, their city, their businesses, and their worship centers were about to be destroyed by a dictator from Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar. A living heritage passed on by their godly forefathers had been bruised and squandered.
Even as God was allowing judgment, God was sprinkling mercy with prophetic words pointing to His redemptive plan for the world. This plan would provide the ultimate answer for brokenness, confusion, and fainting hearts invaded by sin. Alexander MacLaren, in his work Expositions of Holy Scriptures, explains this verse further:
The metaphorical phrase, “a bruised reed he will not break”…portrays a picture of a slender bulrush, growing by the margin of some tarn or pond; its sides crushed and dented in by some outward power, a gust of wind, a sudden blow, the foot of a passing animal. The head is hanging by a thread, but it’s not yet snapped or broken off from the stem.
Through the ages of time, hate, anger, and selfishness have bruised unnumbered individuals. Although their stories may differ, the theme is the same. The reed has been severely damaged and appears without repair. Isaiah’s words speak to lives and situations which seem so hopeless. These words still penetrate the darkness and bring healing to the soul.
Our Savior uses these same words when confronted in a city held captive by distorted and twisted thinking. His ministry was continually being barraged by the pharisaical interpretation of Old Testament law. The brokenness of humanity found in the Old Testament continued into the New Testament, oscillating from one extreme to another. Only through the true teachings of Christ would humanity be able to discover the answer for their broken lives. In Matthew 12, Jesus was confronted with these two extremes on the Sabbath Day. His healing power touched the life of a man with a withered hand. The twisted and broken thinking of the Pharisees challenged the Master on why He healed on the Sabbath Day. Blinded by their own brokenness, they held to their interpretation of the law at the expense of the broken. There was no hope and healing love in their message. It held only strict judgment. Isaiah’s prophetic words, spoken by Christ would again bring them back to God ’s mercy and His justice:
Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgment unto victory. (Matt. 12:18-21, KJV)
Christ’s message for man’s brokenness transcends all religions, all illnesses, and all sins. It will heal the broken, judgmental attitude of the Pharisee in the same way that it heals the man with the withered hand. It still provides hope for the captive. Lost humanity, bruised lives, and flickering flames can identify with Christ’s message of perfect love and justice. When we have no solution, our hope is in Christ.
For every Sue and Dave who are so bruised by sin, there is hope. For the saint of God who is simply worn out from the fight, there is renewal and mercy. For the ministry leader who is exhausted from an endless sense of giving and sacrifice, there is a God who knows the “smoldering wick.” His promises still ring with hope. The prophet brings us back to these words:
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isa. 40:28-31, KJV)
If we trust Him, we can again arise with a fresh sense of hope embodied with newness of life. As we hope in Him, we can radiate His message of hope to our world today.