BRUISED REEDS BEWILDERED
The prophets foretold of the Messiah being both powerful and yet gentle. He would vanquish his enemies, yet gather his people as a shepherd gathers lambs. He would punish rebellious nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9) yet be attentive to the distressed and destitute (Psalm 22:5). He would treat the broken with dignity and respect, yet mete out justice to those responsible for their plight (Isa. 42:3). We are presented with a powerful portrait of the strength and compassion of the Messiah in the prophetic psalms and poems of the prophets while being told that despite this, He would be misunderstood, slandered, and maligned.
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Despite Christ showing unequalled compassion for people, unprecedented care for those close to Him (including His mother and brothers and sisters, and His disciples), His need to, at times, be alone was misunderstood by these people in particular. As unimaginable as it may seem, His mother and siblings at times felt neglected by Him –
¶ And His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And He answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
His disciples experienced times when they felt He didn’t care for them –
But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And one can only wonder how the portico full of ill people felt when He walked over some of them and past others of them to restore a man who had been lame for 38 years while seemingly ignoring their plight!
In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. ¶ Now that day was the Sabbath.”
WHEN ALONE DOESN’T MEAN BY MYSELF
But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
Jesus often withdrew from people. The One who loved people the most needed to have times of space and distance from them. Pastors, the most visible representatives of Christ, in days gone by, were almost universally trained that the best day to take off in a week was Monday. Unless someone has ever experienced what it is like to be needed and wanted by so many people so intensely over the course of a day, it is difficult for them to imagine how wearing this can. I imagine that it is also difficult for people to understand that even the most caring people need quiet time alone to recharge and restore – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Christ’s disciples certainly found it difficult. Mary and Martha found it difficult. Christ’s mother and siblings also had reason to struggle with it. Seasoned pastors turned professors of theology and ministry would instruct their protégés that an intense day of ministry, where preaching just one sermon is equivalent to the expenditure of emotional and even physical energy of labouring 8 hours (let alone preaching twice a Sunday), leading a training meeting, being available for counselling and comfort, showing hospitality over lunch in between services, takes a toll on a pastor. Monday, they would counsel, is the day you need to withdraw and restore. All of these regular Sunday activities for a pastor would only be a fraction of the drain that Christ must have felt nearly every day of His incarnate ministry. Little wonder then, that Immanuel needed to often withdraw from people to be of most value to people. And while it appeared He was alone we know that He was never by Himself.
For those of us called to care and shepherd others where we are continually attempting to repair bruised reeds and not snuff out struggling candles, we run the certain risk of being misunderstood when these precious lambs confuse our absence for indifference or our silence for rejection. Christ ran that risk and was the subject of such misunderstanding. They challenge for Christian carers, especially those called to shepherd, is to recognise that our needed times of isolation and quiet are not times by ourself but with the Enthroned Father who has no need to slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4) who gives restoration and strength to all those who wait on Him (Isa. 40:31).