Thursday, March 3, 2016

"Bruised Reeds"

Are you good at fixing things that are broken? I’m sure not! It seems like every time I try to repair the car by myself, I break itself worse than it was before. I remember years ago when the starter went bad on my car and I tried to fix it alone. I bought the new starter and referenced a book that told me exactly what to do by using terminology that could only be understood by someone who already knew what to do. So, following directions that I did not clearly understand, I attempted to replace my starter. Only I didn’t get the teethy things aligned properly aligned with the geary gizmo. So when I started the car, both the new starter and the gizmo broke! Of course, I threw my tools, screamed a lot, and hired a mechanic to fix it.

One man I knew lived by the motto, “If you can’t fix it with a little hammer, get a bigger hammer.” But some things can be fixed only with know-how and finesse, rather than brute strength or force of will. Angrily trying to hammer a screw into a piece of wood doesn’t work, and neither does trying to fix a broken world with the wrong tools. The problem is that people have been trying to use tools like politics and brutality and force and coercion for thousands of years, and we just haven’t learned that there has to be a better way.

God’s better way is the way of love. In the forty-second chapter of the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks on God’s behalf, saying:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
(Isaiah 42:1-4 NRSV)

Many have identified this “servant” as the Messiah. Certainly, Jesus fits the bill. Full of tenderness and compassion, Jesus followed the way of love, and taught the way of love to everyone who would listen. Unlike me when I threw my tools, Jesus didn’t raise his voice in anger for all to hear. He exercised a gentle spirit in order to bring healing to those who needed it.

Isaiah says, “A bruised reed he will not break.” Sometimes when you have a tomato plant, the weight of the tomatoes or the wind will cause the branch to partially break. Instead of breaking off the damaged piece, you can splint the plant to strengthen the weak place and encourage growth and healing. Isaiah continues, “A dimly burning wick he will not quench.” If you have a fire that has mostly gone out, you might decide to snuff it out entirely or you could choose to treat that smoldering wick with TLC and fan it back into flame. The “servant” in Isaiah is the kind of person who would rather bring healing and restoration than to destroy that which is weak and struggling. Maybe you have people in your life who are just so damaged that they make relationships difficult. They are like bruised reeds or smoldering wicks. You can choose what to do with them—to write them off completely or to be like Jesus and treat them with some TLC and bring healing.

While some identify the “servant” as the Messiah, many say this is not one person at all, but all of God’s people. In verses 6-7 (NRSV), God says:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

This is not just the job description of Jesus. It is the task of every believer to follow the way of love and to bring healing and restoration to the bruised reeds of the world. This means the poor and prisoners, the outsiders and the oppressed, the damaged and distressed. You might think these people in your life are just too broken to make them worth fixing, but to call yourself a Christian means to be like Jesus and do the things that He did. It means that you (and not just He) are the light of the world. The bruised reeds and smoldering wicks take gentleness, but that is one of the fruit of the spirit that Jesus gives to us.

Recently I had a conversation with a self-righteous Christian who was so morally outraged at another person’s sin that they advocated the church treating them with condemnation and contempt rather than gently assisting them to make better choices and to improve their life. This person reminds me of myself trying to fix the broken starter on my car—angrily trying to force things together rather than simply approaching the situation with know-how, finesse, and love. In their righteous conviction, this person ends up throwing their tools, raising their voice, and being about as unchristlike as they can be, all the while breaking things worse than they were before. But those with a servant’s heart won’t break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks. Instead, they’ll bind up the brokenhearted and set the prisoners free. I pray that you’ll be such a servant, and that God will use you to bring light to the world.

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