There is a line in the book of the prophet Isaiah 42:3, repeated in Matthew 12:20 that speaks of “a bruised reed”. I guess any human being who has lived any length of time is “a bruised reed”. But there are two occasions on which I was made to feel without a shadow of a doubt that I was in the presence of such people.
The first time was sitting on the back landing at my parents’ house. On one of his business trips Dad took Mom with him to England, and as was my mother’s habit she made friends rather quickly after arriving. These friends – the Gingells – visited my parents in the US a number of years later. I was sitting with Arthur Gingell of South Hampton, England, and the conversation veered around toward World War Two. Arthur suddenly seemed to be in a long ago place and time as he said to me: “Mark, I hope you never have to go through anything like that.”
Mr. Gingell was recalling the sounds of the air raid sirens. As he sat next to me he was transported back to a dead run for a shelter, uncertain if he would live or die, with no guarantee that the family home would still be standing when it was all over. I think it was the intensity of the moment, and the gentle touch of his hand on my arm that caused the instant to burn itself into my consciousness. Clearly I had never experienced anything like the terror and devastation that he had experienced, and I probably never will.
That experience was some thirty years ago. The second experience was yesterday. I’ve been working with a couple whose family fled Palestine two generations ago when the powers that be repartitioned the land. It took years, and having children who had children for these people to rebuild their lives as refugees in Syria. And now they have run for their lives again. Professional people who provided assistance to people in need – they have left home, jobs, loved ones, and they have to begin all over again. We have been working together helping them to learn English, and with tears in their eyes they looked at me and said they hoped I would never have to go through what they have gone through. I have seen the photographs of what they had and what they have lost. They have pictures of how life used to be for them, and they juxtapose those images with pictures from the war – their home bombed, their street destroyed
“A bruised reed he will not break until he brings justice to victory.” So says the Scriptures. With people suffering the dehumanizing effects of racism, the mind-numbing impact of what it means to be a refugee, the spirit-crushing burden of seeing a life whisked away in violence and hatred – not only your own life, but that of your spouse and your children – I pray that I and the people I love never have to go through that. It’s enough – quite enough – to look into the tear-filled eyes of those who DO have to endure to make one want to hold God to the promise, not in the “bye and bye,” but in the here and now. Let there be justice for these ones. Let them be surrounded by servants who labor with them and love them such that hope can return.
In this little city of Burlington, Vermont, we are literally surrounded by “bruised reeds”. They need mercy. More than that, they cry out for justice. May they find both.