'A smouldering wick he will not snuff out'
Jesus is in the business of re-igniting the stuttering candle, not pressing his thumb on it. Are we? By Colin Sedgwick
“Be patient with me. I have dementia.”
So read the lapel-badge worn by the man getting off the bus. It rather stopped me in my tracks - not something I had seen before. I certainly wouldn’t have pushed past him as I got on, badge or no badge; but it ensured that I stood back to give him a little extra time and space.
I thought, “How sad”, and felt a real pang of sympathy for both the man himself and the woman who seemed to have hold of his arm, presumably his wife.
A Bible-verse flashed into my mind: “Comfort the feeble-minded”. I’m not sure “feeble-minded” would be a politically correct expression today, so I would avoid using it; but I must admit that it struck me at the moment as quite fitting. But when I went looking for the verse I couldn’t find it.
But then in 1Thessalonians 5:14 I found this... “encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone”. Bible-translators have obviously decided that “encourage the disheartened” is a better translation than “comfort the feeble-minded”, and no doubt they are right.
Whatever, the point stands. That little trio of injunctions - “encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” - are all to do with compassion, kindness and sensitivity. And it shows that Paul expected the early church to have members who needed such support.
I once heard somebody comment, perhaps a little mockingly, on the number of people in a particular church who might be described as having “special needs”, or being troubled with “mental health issues”. And somebody in the group immediately responded: “Any church that doesn’t have a good quota of such people doesn’t deserve to be called a church”.
That, surely, is right. If people in particular need of support, understanding and encouragement don’t find these things in the church, well, where will they find them? Aren’t they exactly the kind of people Jesus chose to spend much of his time with?
Our western society has been described as a throw-away society. Once a thing has become surplus to requirements we simply toss it in the rubbish-bin. I read recently about articles of clothing, some of them quite expensive, which people expect to wear just once or perhaps twice, at a pinch. And as for the plastic we throw away without thinking...
Sadly, the throw-away mentality can extend to people. We joke about someone having being “round the block a time or two”, or being “past their use-by date”, or ready to be “put out to grass”. We mean no harm; indeed, it might be meant quite affectionately, and the person on the receiving end laughs good-humouredly. But it speaks volumes.
And it isn’t only to do with age; it can be people of all ages. Some people have naturally robust, confident temperaments, and we instinctively defer to them. But others are naturally timid and lacking in self-confidence. Perhaps they were unloved as children (just imagine that!), or bullied and brow-beaten at school. Perhaps they have been scarred by a traumatic experience. Perhaps they have been crushed by a failure or disappointment.
We might say, “But surely faith in Christ changes things?” And yes, of course it does. But even a powerful conversion experience and a solid faith don’t automatically render us immune from some of the curses of our modern world: things like depression, anxiety, burn-out and low self-esteem.
I recently heard a challenging sermon when the speaker focussed on the gentleness of Jesus as predicted by the prophet Isaiah: “He will not quarrel or cry out; no-one will hear his voice in the streets...” And then these beautiful words: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:19-20, quoting Isaiah 42:2-3).
Yes! Jesus is in the business of mending the bruised reed, not snapping it and tossing it in the bin; of re-igniting the stuttering candle, not pressing his thumb on it.
A question to test ourselves with: Do we instinctively turn away from the “bruised reeds” we come across - the “non-entities” and “low-achievers” - and give our attention to those who are outwardly impressive and attractive?
May God forgive us if we do! - for we are being disloyal to the spirit of the one we profess to call “Lord”.
(Oh, and let’s never forget: it may not be long before it’s me, or you, wearing the sad badge of that man getting off the bus...)
Lord Jesus, thank you that you never stood aloof from even the least impressive of people. Please help me to be like you. Amen.
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com
Image | CHIRAG K | Unsplash
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