Compassion is concern for the pain of others that moves someone to action to relieve the suffering. Compassion is the most frequent expression of Jesus’ emotions. Jesus’ compassion is displayed as He taught and miraculously fed the 5,000+ and the 4,000+ [Matt. 14-15], raised the widow’s son at Nain [Lu. 7:13], and is portrayed in the parable of the Good Samaritan [Lu. 10:33].
There is a wonderful comfort to the compassion of Christ revealed by Jesus’ dealings with bruised reeds and smoldering flax. God has exhorted us to, “Behold Jesus” [Matt. 12:18, Is. 42:1]. As the Apostle John mused, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen [Jn. 21:25]. In essence, there are literally countless wonderful truths about Jesus to contemplate, but God wants you and I to know, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory [Matt. 12:20, Is. 42:3]. What’s so wonderful about supporting bruised reeds and smoldering flax?
“A bruised reed He will not break …” In the ancient world, reeds were used for measuring rods and flutes, but their most common use was as pens. Reeds were like a stick-pen rather than a luxurious Montblanc fountain pen. They were cheap and disposable. If bent and unusable people generally just threw it away and grabbed another. This reality hints at the remarkable nature of Jesus. Rather than dispose of the bruised, Jesus seeks to strengthen and restore.
Our world tends to gravitate towards the disposable. Razors are disposable. Pens are disposable unless it’s an expensive fountain pen. Furnishings are disposable unless they are family heirlooms rather than an IKEA some-assembly required table. And alas, people and relationships tend to be perceived as disposable. If they are not accomplishing the perceived function we get rid of them. The world we live in tends to say, “If your spouse doesn’t make you happy then get rid of them and move on.” Or if the worker isn’t getting the job done, “You’re fired.” And if a friend is too needy for too long, “This isn’t working for me, I’m out.”
Unfortunately, most, if not all of us, are likely to discover seasons of life where we are weak, weary, bruised, and in need to be restored. As a pastor, I want to advance God’s kingdom. Yet, there are times that I feel weak, weary, and woefully ineffective for the task. As a follower of Jesus, I want to add value to my relationships with my spouse, sons, friends, and neighbors where I live, work, study, and play. Yet, when life, and ministry bruise me I wonder whether I’m adding or subtracting value. It is comforting to know that Jesus doesn’t dispose of me when I’m bruised, weak, and weary. Instead He supports and restores me.
“Smoking flax He will not quench …” Flax was used for wicks in lamps. Smoldering flax is an irritant and offers no light. Generally, people would simply quench it and replace with another cheap wick. Yet, Jesus seeks to encourage and restore. Jesus is gracious despite our struggles of faith. It takes time, patience, and love to restore someone who is smoldering. They have seemingly lost their passion for Christ, their light has faded, and there remains barely a spark. Many find it much easier to invest the effort where there is a seemingly greater return on investment. Nevertheless, Jesus gently and tirelessly fans a spark of faith to a flame.
It is the nature of the life that we move towards apathy, and former passions grow cold. For most there is likely to be a season where the flame seems to grow dim. It may be multiple seasons, and they may be brief or long in duration. I’ve been there, and I suspect you have too. Imagine if we were disposed of in those times. Presumably, if you’ve read this far you are likely in a season where a spark of faith has been stirred to a flame (or perhaps a blaze). And again, we have reason to rejoice in the compassion of the Christ.
Jesus shows compassion without compromise. He never encourages or endorses sin, but shows compassion to sinners. To the woman caught in adultery, He assured her that he had no desire to condemn her [Jn. 8]. But He also instructed her that she needed to repent from her sin (“Go and sin no more”). I’m comforted that as I seek to grow in Christ-likeness that Jesus is patient with me and “my stuff.” But His compassion also moves Him to action to relieve my pain that is aggravated by my sin. So, He reminds me to repent and yield to Him. If Jesus simply showed compassion without calling me to repent ironically He would prolong my pain rather than reducing my suffering.
The Greeks and Romans tended to view compassion as weakness rather than a virtue. Similarly, the very idea of a compassionate kingdom leader is counter-intuitive to our word system that seems to gravitate towards a perceived strong leader. Nevertheless, God has assured that Jesus shall remain compassionate “till He sends forth justice to victory” [Matt. 12:20, Is. 42:3]. God will ultimately bring judgment upon the unrepentant. But until that time, Jesus is compassionate and seeks to restore people to Himself. This is the type of king that I would choose to serve. This is the type of king that I want to be subject to, and this is the type of king that I need, especially when I’m struggling. And He is the one that when I behold Him I marvel and want to be more like every day.