“The bruised reed He will not crush.”

The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12:20

St. Matthew quotes the above passage, from the prophet Isaiah, with reference to Jesus’ ministry of compassion and hope for all people. He wanted his Jewish readers to know that Jesus’ new way fulfilled what Isaiah said in the Old Testament.

The Pharisees were making plans to kill Jesus because His new message made them very uncomfortable, and they didn’t want to reform their lives. Thus, Jesus challenged their narrow interpretation of the law with respect to the Sabbath; the woman caught in adultery; the temple tax; the Samaritans; one’s neighbor; and many other parts of the Old Testament.

Resistance to change is, perhaps, the greatest obstacle to reform. This is made very clear in the case of the Pharisees who were opposed to reform; to changing their ways. It is also a problem that continues to challenge us today; it never goes away.

The gospel advocates reform from within; it calls for a change of heart that finds fulfillment in humble service. Jesus is the model of the humble service that Isaiah speaks of in today’s gospel: “not arguing or shouting or making loud speeches in the streets.” He is the model of compassion that the prophet Hosea speaks of by showing the superiority of mercy over sacrifice: “it is mercy I desire, not sacrifice.”

In his dealings with those who were bruised by sin, like the prodigal son or the woman caught in adultery, He did not crush them. Rather, He raised them up. Neither did He condemn those who were weak such as St. Peter who denied Him three times. Like a “smoldering wick” which He refused to quench, He rescued Peter. He empowered the weak people of this world to be “the light of the world.”

The message of Jesus, as Isaiah prophesied, is an inclusive message; it is a message in which “the Gentiles will find hope.” How often people fail to see that the Christian message is for everyone; that it is not to be confined to a particular person, a particular church or denomination? Jesus asks us to follow him. He does not ask us to shut other people out by creating our own closed society. That is what the Pharisees did, and that’s why they did not reform their lives.

Pray that you do not shut the door on the great unwashed of the world who also need the mercy and compassion of Christ.

Fr. Hugh Duffy