The Humility of the Suffering Servant
Matthew 12:20-21 "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Isaiah, whom Matthew is citing here, is using an important metaphor. A reed was commonly used for measuring. And in some cases reeds were used for support when walking, especially for the infirmed. Once a reed began to bend or crack, it could be of no further use. It was simply discarded.
Imagine having a walking stick that developed such a significant crack you could no longer put much weight on it. What would you do with it? Most people would simply discard it for a better one. But Jesus does not discard broken things—or broken people so ruthlessly. He’s the Servant King!
In the second metaphor Isaiah refers to a strip of linen cloth that was commonly used as a lamp wick. When it became worn out through use, an old linen wick would smoke but not burn brightly.
When you first snuff out a candle wick, the light will fade, and black smoke will begin to curl upward. That’s what a smoldering wick does when it’s no longer useful.
In other words, this is a second image of a damaged, broken, apparently useless instrument. But Jesus does not flippantly discard it.
The imagery is extraordinary. Jesus does not discard damaged, broken, apparently useless people. Jesus deliberately chooses the meek, the lowly, the downtrodden, the drunkard, the prostitute, the mentally challenged, the criminal on death row. Jesus is the servant king, and he chooses servants like himself and redeems them by his grace.
What other kind of King anywhere could do such a thing? He stands with arms wide opened ready to embrace the tired and suffering and downtrodden people of this world. And unlike the phony politician who lives a life of ease and only pretends to understand the plight of the common man, Jesus does understand. He is the greatest servant of all.
There is a remarkable phrase in the work Pensees by the seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal: “No other religion has proposed that we should hate ourselves. No other religion therefore can please those who hate themselves and seek a being who is really worthy of love. And if they had never [before] heard of the religion of a humiliated God, they would at once embrace it.”