smolderingwickAs Jesus went about healing the least of these Matthew lets us in on a little secret in Matthew 12:15-21. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ healings were a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s words about the suffering servant in Isaiah 42:1-4,

18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed
    or quench a smoldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
21     And in his name the Gentiles will hope.

The suffering servant related with the suffering of the people and treated them with great gentleness and care. I wish I could be more like Jesus when it comes to applying this idea to theological discussions. Here is what I mean by that.

First, every person you encounter is a bruised reed or a smoldering wick. People have more baggage and more pain in their lives than we can imagine. People are searching for belonging and are often bruised by a world of rejection. Even those who seem tough on the outside are often hurting as much or more on the inside. They just get to be really good at protecting themselves from letting that be seen. What they don’t need is one more Christian smashing them to pieces.

Second, that means that we treat people with gentleness because they need gentleness. The temptation of theological discussion is to snuff out the smoldering wick and break off the bruised reed. The goal becomes victory over fellowship. The purpose is self-centered rather than Christ-centered. We can focus so much on ideas that we forget about people.

I think the purpose of our discussions has to shift. The shift that must take place is the result of worldly value systems and worldly ways of seeing and dialoging with people syncretizing with our Christian faith. It is a shame. It multiplies the hurt. The shift is not a shift to check our brain at the door but a shift to engage our heart with our mind and make sure we are people of compassion. I once had a friend tell me that a prominent Christian leader was a great Christian and a great person as long as you didn’t talk theology with them. That is a sad commentary on things!

Oh to be like Jesus…what a blessed thing that would be. To treat others with mercy and compassion…how fulfilling and life-giving that would be! Let us follow the example of Jesus who didn’t go for the jugular but went for the heart. That doesn’t mean there is no room to be direct. That doesn’t mean there is no room to disagree. Let us do so with love and mercy and with an understanding that the end goal is to build up rather than to tear down because people are already torn down enough.

So the next time you think you have the edge in winning the argument…their reed is bent and nearly broken or the wick is smoldering and about to go out…make sure you strengthen their reed and rekindle their flame along the way. It is ok to make your point but please don’t try to snuff out their spirit with your superior wisdom because that isn’t wisdom at all. You are just fooling yourself. You aren’t fooling God.