Friday, April 12, 2013

For the Bruised Reeds

Image source.

"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.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope."
Matthew 12:18-21

This week we're reading Matthew 12:15-21, where Jesus heals a ton of people, then tells them not to tell anyone, then the author claims that this fulfilled the above prophecy, from Isaiah 42:1-4.


First of all, I'm still incredibly impressed at how Jesus just heals people all the time. He cares about all these sick people who come to him in droves- cares enough to take the time to heal them (and in many of the accounts of healings, he even talks to them about their faith and some encouraging things like that). Best savior ever.

And then we have this prophecy from Isaiah, about God's servant who would do good and bring justice, but do it quietly, like Jesus when he healed people and told them not to tell anyone.

But... how? How can "the nations put their hope" in someone who doesn't make himself a big deal? "The nations" won't even have heard of him. How's he going to have enough influence to "bring justice to victory"?

Also, what does it mean about "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out"? I have 2 possible explanations of these metaphors:
  1. He won't really bother anyone or disturb anything. Ya know the minimal effort it takes to put out a "smoldering wick"? Yeah, he won't even do that.
  2. The "bruised reed" and "smoldering wick" are metaphors for people who are weak/wounded/suffering. Instead of hurting them further, he will help them. And that whole justice thing.
And since option #1 doesn't really sound like Jesus (remember the time he got himself killed? yeah) I think option #2 is probably right. (Any other ideas here? I'm sort of just speculating.)

And perhaps Matthew includes this passage and prophecy to clarify what kind of savior Jesus would be. The Jewish people at the time were, in general, looking for a political leader to give them freedom from the Roman empire. But Jesus wasn't really into that.

Jesus had a much bigger view. He wasn't about removing a certain group from power and replacing it with a different group. Instead, he came to establish a kingdom where everyone is loved and protected- especially those who are the most vulnerable. And there's justice. And healing.

As Isaiah said, "He will proclaim justice to the nations." This is so much bigger than political power in first-century Israel. (And so much bigger than 21st-century America.) Jesus didn't really do the things they expected him to do. And he doesn't always do the things I expect either. He's tricky like that.

So for the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks out there, Jesus brings good news. Healing, justice, rest, hope.

He came to help us in our weaknesses, not punish us for them.

Discussion questions: How does "proclaiming justice" relate to "no one will hear his voice in the streets"? What do you think of the "bruised reed" and "smoldering wick" metaphors? How is Jesus different than you expected? Why do you think Matthew chose to reference the description of "God's servant" from Isaiah 42?


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: From Now On, I'm Breaking the Rules (Matthew 12:1-14)

Next post: Demons 'n Things (Matthew 12:22-50)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. This is so interesting to me because I've always read the "bruised reed" and "smoldering wick" parts as being the subject, rather than the object, of what follows: i.e., "A bruised reed, he [the bruised reed] will not break." But you're reading it more like Yoda -- object subject verb. "He will not break a bruised reed." I'm honestly not sure which one it's supposed to be, but this tells me I need to go back and revisit this passage and maybe consult some sources that reference the original language.

  2. Lol- yeah I guess I do read it like Yoda. :) Hadn't thought of that before.