In a dog eat dog world cynicism comes easily. We lose hope for ourselves and can easily find the worst in others. Other people are fine as long as they are helping me, but if anything changes, I can just toss them aside and move on.
Although cynical attitudes saturate our society, they are not Christian. All people matter deeply to God. God is well aware of the fallenness of our world. He knows that everyone is shot through with sinfulness. That does not change the fact that all people are made in God’s image, and therefore, all people have dignity and value.
Because God sent Jesus to suffer and die in the place of sinners, there is hope for everyone. While the cynic isn’t always wrong in his or her negative assumptions about people, the cynic lacks God’s perspective of hope. What might God do with that bad man? What might the Lord do with that broken woman?
No one ought to be used and discarded. No one ought to be thought of as permanently damaged goods. God cares about all of his creatures, and he has healing power to change people.
When Jesus walked upon the earth he saw the worst people in the worst circumstances, and instead of tossing them aside, he cared for them. Instead of being too focused to fuss over people who had had their chances and blew it, the Lord Jesus stooped down to where they were and lifted them up again.
In an odd sounding application of an Old Testament prediction, Matthew said about Jesus: “a bruised reed he will not break” (Matt 12:20). A little background helps us understand Matthew’s meaning and gives us insight into the heart of Jesus.
Especially near the Jordan River, reeds were extremely common in Israel. They grew by the thousands. These hollow straight sticks had many practical uses. Bored shepherds made musical instruments with reeds to pass the hours watching sheep eat grass. I wonder if David learned to play the flute (in addition to his harp) while watching over his family’s flocks near Bethlehem before he became the king of Israel.
Reeds could also be used as makeshift rulers. If you knew the length of something, you could cut your reed to that length and then use it as a measuring rod for all kinds of things.
If you had ink, you could also cut a reed in such a way as to use it for a makeshift pen. Instead of ordering a fancy fountain pen online, ancient Israelites could pick one for free from the river bank.
The biggest drawback to reeds was that they were fragile. But if you damaged your reed, it wasn’t really a problem, because they were everywhere. Reeds were disposable. Just toss it and pick out a new one. Have you tied to use a straw at a fast food restaurant with a tiny hole in it? It doesn’t work. It isn’t a problem, though, because you can easily grab another straw.
Now let’s think about how Matthew said that Jesus relates to ancient reeds. Matthew said that Jesus does not break bruised reeds. He doesn’t treat broken people as if they are disposable. Instead, he cares for them. He repairs them. He heals them.
If you have been abused or worn down, Jesus is a safe place for you to come. He handles broken people with tenderness and compassion. Even those whose sad situations are mostly the result of decisions that would not have placed Jesus can still find mercy from Jesus.
This is not to say that Jesus is indifferent to people’s sinful choices. Far from it. God hates sin. He is just and will always punish sin. But human sinful don’t have to be the end of the story. God loves sinners. God sent Jesus to earth to rescue sinners. God punished Jesus on the cross in the very place of sinners.
The first part of finding the compassionate heart of Jesus is recognizing your brokenness. Really, we are all sinful messes. The problem is that too few of us admit our sinfulness. We cover it up. We excuse it. We rename our sins to minimize reality. But it is only those who recognize their sinfulness that come to the Savior. If I assume I’m totally fine, why would I make an appointment with the doctor?
If you do recognize your brokenness and come to Jesus for mercy and healing, you will find him to be full of compassion. He has already been so patient with you, hasn’t he? Even in your full mess, you haven’t received the punishment from God that you fully deserve. God is just. Judgment will come one day soon. Wouldn’t it be far better to come to Christ to be forgiven than to meet God after a lifetime of disregarding him?
Now let’s stop and think about how the kindness of Jesus Christ towards you ought to affect the way you treat others. Are there people who have messed their lives up that are affecting your happy life? Of course. Do they deserve another chance at your kindness? Probably not. Haven’t you already been patient with them? I’m sure you have. Should you then go ahead and disregard them and toss them aside? I don’t think so.
Think of how kindly Jesus has treated you. You were a disposable reed. Worse than that, you were a damaged disposable reed. Jesus patiently endured your repeated bad decisions. Jesus had every right to trash you and move on. But he didn’t, did he? He doesn’t want you to grow cold to others around you who are broken. He wants you to be an instrument of his gracious compassion to undeserving sinners.
I know that there are some situations when our efforts to help those in need are actually hurting them. I know people who have rejected righteousness so badly that they need to be removed from your life for the time being. But may it never be that broken people are removed from your heart. Keep praying for them. Keep your heart tender. Jesus was so patient with you even when you did nothing to deserve it. When you finally saw your need and came to him, you found him to be filled with compassion. May the broken people in our lives always find our hearts to have Christ’s kind of compassion.
By John Crotts