Friday, July 17, 2009

A Bruised Reed He Shall Not Break

July 18, 2009

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

The Israelites set out from Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting the children. This was a night of vigil for the LORD, as he led them out of the land of Egypt; so on this same night all the Israelites must keep a vigil for the LORD throughout their generations. Exodus 12:37, 42

But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him to put him to death. When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Matthew 12:14-15


Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth with its crops, Who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it: I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. Isaiah 42:1-7


The roots of our throw-away culture go all the way back to Egypt…even to the Garden of Eden. When Cain was envious of Abel, he committed the first capital murder in history throwing away his relationship with his brother. When Pharaoh was tired of enduring the wrath of the Hebrew’s God, he threw the Israelites away to wander in the desert. When the Jews grew weary of the message taught by the itinerant preacher from Nazareth, they laid plans to get rid of him as well.

Biblical stories have laid the outline and our disposable behavior today continues the narrative. Is it any wonder that 41 percent of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce? Who is surprised to learn that there are more than half a million children in the American foster care system thrown away or abandoned by their birth parents? If something doesn’t fit, rather that work out issues, we cut people out of our lives.

The Jews were bruised reeds at the hand of the pharaoh. Jesus, too, was about to be bruised, broken and crucified as a traitor. Yet before the authorities could arrest him, he escaped. Only later when the time was ready, did Jesus become a bruised reed for us.

In ancient times, a healthy reed was used for many things such as musical instruments, medicine, mats and paper. When it got bruised, it was no good and was thrown away like salt that lost its flavor and got nothing to savor. As blogger Josh Spiers comments, “Bruised reeds are good for nothing! But Isaiah said that Jesus wouldn’t [discard one].”

Things we think have little value continue to be discarded by us. However, the Lord’s beatific mercy was extended even to those weak and broken. He would not throw away a bruised reed, a blind beggar or a leprous outcast. Jesus not only became human, he also became vulnerable like the bruised reed.

In the person of Jesus, the bruised reed (weakest link) becomes the strongest link freeing us from sin. Matthew’s gospel today – in quoting Isaiah 42 – restates the Nazareth manifesto that outlined Jesus’ priorities and was revealed in his visit to the temple. Today, we see how we the people in Jesus’ time and today rejected that message and that messenger.


Just as Jesus’ message challenged his neighbors, we have a very challenging encyclical from Pope Benedict posing some tough moral questions for all Catholics. (I invite you to read John Allen’s analysis of the “long-awaited social encyclical Caritas in Veritate.”)

In a press conference after release of the document, Allen reports that Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi of Trieste, Italy, the former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace commented on one of the unique aspects of the encyclical: Pope Benedict’s insistence on “holding anthropology and sociology together -- or, to put it differently, his insistence on treating the pro-life message of the Catholic church and its peace-and-justice concerns as a package deal. This is the first papal social encyclical to so thoroughly blend economic justice with the defense of human life from conception to natural death.”

Allen comments: “Of course, the idea that defending unborn life and defending the poor go together is not terribly revolutionary at the level of principle. It's been repeated so often in official Catholic literature that there are probably T-shirts someplace emblazoned with that mantra. Statements of principle, however, often fail to account for the gap between what we say and what we do. In that sense, Caritas in Veritate amounts to a direct challenge to the sociology of American Catholicism.” (italics added)

The Vatican reporter concludes: [T]he question implicitly posed by Benedict's encyclical: Can the church in this country develop a new way of "breathing with both lungs," bringing its pro-life and peace-and-justice energies into greater alignment?

Or will each cafeteria continue to reject what is being served in the other line like those in the temple who were not comfortable with the manifesto Jesus was preaching in his day and ours? Life is a “seamless garment” and we must not discard any of it as we strive for consistency in our words as well as in our deeds.