Matthew 12:9-21 (ESV)
9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. 15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Behold, 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. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
After the grain field incident, Jesus and his followers entered a local synagogue. Jesus encountered a man whose hand was crippled. This handicap would have made it hard for the man to earn a living. Jesus asked him to stretch out his hand, and then he completely healed the man. Now the Pharisees must have expected Jesus to show up there; they probably even planted the man with the withered hand in their synagogue to stir up trouble. When they asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, he responded by asking them if it was lawful to lift a sheep from a pit on the Sabbath. Jesus brilliantly shut their argument down by showing them the foolishness of their reasoning. If mercy could and should be extended toward an animal, then of course mercy should be extended toward another human being, even on the Sabbath. A prophecy from Isaiah spoke to what happened next. Jesus withdrew from the mainstream crowds, as was foretold (v. 19). And continuing the theme of mercy, Isaiah spoke rightly of Jesus when he said, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”
What an incredible description of the compassion of our Lord! Reeds could be used to create products as various as a flute, a measuring rod, or a pen. They were super easy to obtain, and a broken or damaged one would be immediately tossed away. A smoldering wick on a candle was also considered useless. Not only would it fail to put forth the light it was designed to give, but it would have created a lot of annoying smoke. To work with a bruised reed or a broken wick would take much time and patience. Think of verse 20 as “Jesus will not break the bruised reed, and he will not quench the smoldering wick.” Jesus invested an unconventional degree of care into people as he fulfilled God’s agenda of saving souls. The picture Isaiah painted of Jesus should convict us all. Though he was the blameless God-man, he was longsuffering, kind, and merciful. He continued to work with any in whom he saw potential. We should pursue this same kind of patient hope. As we follow Jesus, may we ask God to help us never to cast out the “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” in our lives. We simply don’t know who may turn out to be the next useful tool or bright light for the Lord and his kingdom.