Read an Excerpt
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not
Matthew 12:20 NIV
Imagine it's a Saturday afternoon in October. What you needed to get done today, you've already done. Your afternoon lies before you with no obligations. Free afternoons don't come as often as they once did, so you consider your options for the day. You pick up a paper to get some ideas. A movie? Nothing good is showing. Television? You can do that any time. Wait. What's this? An ad catches your eye.
Special Art Exhibit
"Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks"
2:00 to 4:00 Saturday Afternoon
Hmm ... It's been a while since you've seen some good art. Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks? Probably some nature stuff. Besides, the walk would be nice. You'll do it. You lay down the paper, put on a coat, and grab some gloves.
You're greeted by the musty odor of books as you walk through the library doors. Behind the counter sits a librarian with her hair in a bun and a pencil behind her ear. A student with a backpack at his feet stares into a drawer of cataloged cards. A table featuring old Life magazines strikes you as interesting. You start to pick up the one with Truman on the cover when you see a sign that reminds you why you came. "Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks" it reads and points you toward a door. You walk across a hallway and open one of two heavy, wooden doors and step in.
It's an intimateroomno larger than a nice den. Bookshelves cover the walls, and books line the shelves. A fire crackles in a fireplace, and a couple of high wingback chairs invite you to spend the afternoon with a good book. Maybe later, you think. First, the art.
Placed around the room are the paintings. All framed. All in vivid color. All set on easels, in pairs, and always back to back. You put your gloves in your coat pocket, hang your coat on a hook, and move toward the first painting.
It's a portrait of a leper, the center figure on the canvas. He stoops like a hunchback. His fingerless hand, draped in rags, extends toward you, pleading. A tattered wrap hides all of his face except two pain-filled eyes. The crowd around the leper is chaotic. A father is grabbing a curious child. A woman trips over her own feet as she scrambles to get away. A man glares over his shoulder as he runs. The painting is entitled with the leper's plea, "If you will, you can ..."
The next painting portrays the same leper, but the scene has changed dramatically. The title has only two words, "I will." In this sketch the leper is standing erect and tall. He is looking at his own outstretched handit has fingers! The veil is gone from his face and he is smiling. There is no crowd; only one other person is standing beside the leper. You can't see his face, but you can see his hand on the shoulder of the healed man.
"This is no nature exhibit," you whisper to yourself as you turn to the next painting.
In this one the artist's brush has captured a woman in midair, jumping from one side of a canyon to another. Her clothes are ragged. Her body is frail, and her skin is pale. She looks anemic. Her eyes are desperate as she reaches for the canyon wall with both hands. On the ledge is a man. All you see are his legs, sandals, and the hem of a robe. Beneath the painting are the woman's words, "If only ..."
You step quickly to see the next scene. She is standing now. The ground beneath her bare feet is solid. Her face flushes with life. Her cautious eyes look up at the half-moon of people that surround her. Standing beside her is the one she sought to touch. The caption? His words. "Take heart ..."
The next portrait is surrealistic. A man's contorted face dominates the canvas. Orange hair twists against a purple background. The face stretches downward and swells at the bottom like a pear. The eyes are perpendicular slits in which a thousand tiny pupils bounce. The mouth is frozen open in a scream. You notice something oddit's inhabited! Hundreds of spiderish creatures claw over each other. Their desperate voices are captured by the caption, "Swear to God you won't torture me!"
Fascinated, you step to the next painting. It is the same man, but now his features are composed. His eyes, no longer wild, are round and soft. The mouth is closed, and the caption explains the sudden peace: "Released." The man is leaning forward as if listening intently. His hand strokes his chin. And dangling from his wrist is a shackle and a chaina broken chain.
In another portrait a scantily clothed female cowers before an angry mob of men who threaten her with stones. In the next painting the stones lie harmlessly on the ground, littering the courtyard occupied by a surprised woman and a smiling man who stands over some pictures drawn in the dirt.
In one painting a paralytic on a pallet urges his friends not to give up as they stare at a house overflowing with people. In the next the pallet is on the boy's shoulders as he skips out the door of the house.
In one picture a blind man screams to a rabbi. In the next he bows before the one to whom he screamed.
Throughout the gallery the sequence repeats itself. Always two paintings, one of a person in trauma and one of a person in peace. "Before" and "after" testimonials to a life-changing encounter. Scene after scene of serenity eclipsing sorrow. Purpose defeating pain. Hope outshining hurt.
But alone in the center of the hall is a single painting. It is different from the others. There are neo faces. No people. The artist has dipped his brush into ancient prophecy and sketched two simple objectsa reed and a wick.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
Matthew 12:20 NIV
Is there anything more frail than a bruised reed? Look at the bruised reed at the water's edge. A once slender and tall stalk of sturdy river grass, it is now bowed and bent.
Are you a bruised reed? Was it so long ago that you stood so tall, so proud? You were upright and sturdy, nourished by the waters and rooted in the riverbed of confidence.
Then something happened. You were bruised ...
by harsh words
by a friend's anger
by a spouse's betrayal
by your own failure
by religion's rigidity.
And you were wounded, bent ever so slightly. Your hollow reed, once erect, now stooped, and hidden in the bulrush.
And the smoldering wick on the candle. Is there anything closer to death than a smoldering wick? Once aflame, now flickering and failing. Still warm from yesterday's passion, but no fire. Not yet cold but far from hot. Was it that long ago you blazed with faith? Remember how you illuminated the path?
Then came the wind ... the cold wind, the harsh wind. They said your ideas were foolish. They told you your dreams were too lofty. They scolded you for challenging the time-tested.
The constant wind wore down upon you. Oh, you stood strong for a moment (or maybe a lifetime), but the endless blast whipped your flickering flame, leaving you one pinch away from darkness.
The bruised reed and the smoldering wick. Society knows what to do with you. The world has a place for the beaten. The world will break you off; the world will snuff you out.
But the artists of Scripture proclaim that God won't. Painted on canvas after canvas is the tender touch of a Creator who has a special place for the bruised and weary of the world. A God who is the friend of the wounded heart. A God who is the keeper of your dreams. That's the theme of the New Testament.
And that's the theme of the gallery.
Let's stroll through the gallery together. Let's ponder the moments when Christ met people at their points of pain. We'll see the prophecy proved true. We'll see bruised reeds straightened and smoldering wicks ignited.
It's quite a collection of paintings. By the way, your portrait is in the gallery too. Go ahead. Look at it. It's there, to the side Just like the others, there are two easels. But unlike the others these canvases are white. Your name is at the bottom. Beside the easel is a table with paint and a brush ...
The Bruised Reed
It stood with assurance.
Head held high on strong stalk.
But that was before the careless bump, the harsh rain.
Now it's bruised, bent. Weakened.
It seeks gentle fingers to straighten and not break.
It needs a firm touch to heal and not to hurt.
Is there such a hand?