Matthew 12:19-20 A Bruised Reed

He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matt 12:19-20, ESV)

In the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, the Lord Jesus Christ declared his lowliness and willingness to take upon himself the burdens of his people. Soon after, the Pharisees brought forth accusations against him and his disciples, not being able to catch the Lord doing any wrong, Matthew writes, “the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (12:14). While Christ withdrew from their presence, he gained a following once again. He did not refuse to help these people; in fact, “he healed them all” (vs 15).

Jesus’ humble response to the needy people and solemn charge not to make him known, in reaction to the Pharisees’ zealous legalism fulfilled a prophecy found in the 42nd chapter of Isaiah. In the prophecy, the foretold Servant comes not as a conquering warrior but as a gentle Savior. He will not break a bruised reed. He will not quench a smoldering wick.

It is obvious from the context that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. But what is a bruised reed? Reeds were an abundant plant. They were used as measuring sticks and sometimes for the production of musical instruments. But reeds are also fragile. A bruised reed is almost worthless. Having such a great supply of these reeds, the people would either ignore those which were bruised or break them in favor of better, upstanding reeds. Yet, the character of our Lord is so gracious, so humble, that he is known as one who would not break a bruised reed.

Symbolically then, bruised reeds are those who recognize their own hopelessness – they are the people for whom Christ came: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This fact is why Jesus could say “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This fact is why Jesus did not refuse to be gracious to those who came to him. Jesus is meek and lowly in heart. He is gentle and loving.

We have a tendency to forget the gentle love of our Savior. We may have seen ourselves as bruised reeds at one time or another, but the temptation we face is to neglect our dependence on Christ and confide in our own strength. We substitute legalism for grace, self-centered religion for Christ-centered faith. Even worse, we have a propensity to cast these aberrant failures onto others. Herein is found the root of the very hypocritical system employed by the accusing Pharisees. Legalistic, self-centered religion binds heavy burdens on people, not considering them as weak, and ultimately leads people away from God. Christ however, meets people where they are and offers grace to the humble.

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