Bruised Reeds and Smoking Wicks - The Warrior's Journey®

Bruised Reeds and Smoking Wicks

Author: Chaplain, COL Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret.)

. Photo by is licensed under CC By 2.0

“He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”
(Matthew 12:19-20)

Here in Chapter 12, Matthew quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 to describe Jesus’ attitude toward sinners. Jesus didn’t come to rail against sinners and condemn them – as the Pharisees did. He knew all about humanity’s sins and depravity and His mission was to address them. But He hadn’t come to judge the world, rather to save it (John 3:16-17). Sin would indeed be punished, but He Himself would bear the penalty – to spare humanity from perishing and to reconcile them to God (Romans 3:23-26; 5:6-10).

Two images illustrate the sinner and Christ’s mission to redeem him. One image is of a bruised or cracked reed. Reeds grew by the millions in the Jordan Valley and were used for a variety of purposes. Some people used reeds for canes, some for measuring rods, and some (like shepherds) used reeds to make flutes. Though reeds were firm, they were also thin and could easily become cracked while being fashioned into a flute. But should this happen, it is no lose. For there are millions more where the cracked reed came from. So simply crumple it up, throw it away, and get another. But Jesus does something amazing. He fixes worthless, cracked reeds. He heals their cracks and fashions them into flutes to bring music to the ears of God.

The other image is of a smoking flax or wick. This refers to the wick of an oil lamp which, in this case, has run out of oil and is now smoking and filling the room with a bad odor. If this happens, the woman of the house would immediately toss the smoking wick out the window. But Jesus doesn’t follow standard procedure. He trims the wick and fills the lamp with oil to make it burn brightly again.

In contrast, the Pharisees saw themselves as “religious police,” going after anyone who fails to keep God’s commandments. They hounded Jesus and His the disciples for not following ceremonial protocol in religious matters (Matthew 12:1-2; 12:9-15; 15:1-2; Mark 2:15-16, 18; John 5:5-15).

Jesus does not call us to be religious police, but “reed menders” and “wick fixers.” We are to be in the business of redemption, not judgment. Our instrument in this task is the Gospel, whose message – if believed – transforms both soul and life.


Do you ever feel like a cracked reed? Instead of sending forth strains pleasing to the ear, your life is full of discord and offends others.

Do you ever feel like a smoking wick? Instead of being the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14-16) you only spread darkness.

Though you are broken, Jesus can mend you. Place yourself in His hands.

Let's Talk

100% Confidential | Warrior-to-warrior

We respond within 24 hours and can provide community support, resources, and referrals.