Commentary on Matthew 12:14-21
Jesus is becoming a figure of controversy. We saw yesterday how he was accused by Pharisees of condoning the breaking of the sabbath on the part of his disciples. Far from apologising, Jesus defended his followers and implied that he himself was greater than the Law. Immediately afterwards he went to a synagogue and, in spite of a challenge about healing on the sabbath, went ahead and cured a physically handicapped man.
At the end of this story, Matthew says, “The Pharisees went out and began to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him.” He was seen as a severe threat to their authority. And that is where our reading begins today.
Jesus was fully aware of their plotting and so he disappeared from sight for a while. We should be clear that Jesus did not go out of his way to confront and attack people. Still less was his behaviour deliberately designed to create trouble for himself. There are people like that; they go out of their way to make trouble for others and for themselves. Jesus never behaved in such a way. He did not want to attack or be attacked by certain people. He did not deliberately engineer his own sufferings and death; quite the contrary. So now, as things get hot for him, he withdraws for a while.
At this point, Matthew, who, we remember is writing for a Jewish readership, shows how Jesus’ behaviour corresponds to a prophecy in the Old Testament. This is something he does a number of times.
The passage is from the prophet Isaiah (42:1-4) and it shows Jesus as full of the Spirit of God campaigning for justice for peoples everywhere. He is the servant whom God has chosen, “my beloved in whom I delight”. He is no demagogue shouting from a soapbox. “He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.” He moves around quietly and, at the same time, is tolerant and understanding of the weak. His behaviour is described beautifully as, “The bruised reed he will not crush; the smouldering wick he will not quench.”
We, too, are called to live and proclaim the Gospel without compromise but to do so without any taint of arrogance or bullying and, at the same time, with patience and understanding for those who are not yet ready to answer Jesus’ call.