The mat explained “kintsugi” the Japanese art of mending broken pottery. On the odd occasion I’ve dropped a plate or a mug on the floor and it’s smashed into pieces, I’ve had no hesitation in (carefully) picking up the bits and binning them. But if it was something of great value (not likely in my house, I would add), it may perhaps have been taken to a specialist who could repair it with little or no evidence of what had befallen it. But in Japan, it might be done very differently. The cracks could be joined with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. So the plate is restored to use, but the cracks remain there, to remind the user of its past history.
Matthew uses a quotation from Isaiah, where the reference is to Cyrus, the Persian king, to describe the mission of Jesus. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20).
The Coronavirus pandemic reminds us all that we can easily become bruised reeds or candles burning very dimly, easily extinguished by the lightest puff of wind. And we may have felt like that even before the crisis. That’s why we should be truly thankful that God sent Jesus: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Whatever may happen to us, good or bad, God knows about it and cares about it. “…even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:31).
When we start a new life in Christ, we are not instantly made perfect. Our physical appearance is the same. Inside ourselves we have the same difficulties and anxieties. Our nature is still the same, though we would like to think it is becoming more Christ-like in steady increments -– a ‘work in progress’.
As a youngster growing up surrounded by people who seemed to have a far greater knowledge and understanding of Christianity than I had, I thought my failings and lack of knowledge were simply due to my youth, and assumed (or hoped?) in my latter years that I would know all that I needed to know and would have mastered the art of Christian living. Now, many years later, I realise that humanly speaking that was an impossible dream. No matter how many years we have been following Jesus, we will have much still to learn, and much to improve. Our cracks will still be very visible – certainly to God, probably to others and hopefully to ourselves as well.
Chapter 6 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is often read at baptisms. It talks about being dead to sin, alive in Christ: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). But in the very next chapter Paul confesses to his own weaknesses: “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway” (Romans 7:18 and 19 The Message Bible).
Paul reminds us that there is still hope for us, bruised reeds and flickering flames though we are: “Jesus Christ acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different” (Romans 7:25 The Message Bible).
When we think of Jesus giving his whole life so that we may be persuaded to lead lives which please God, we can be truly thankful. Our cracks still show, and perhaps remind us of both how far we have come, and how far we have still to go. We can be sure of one thing, through God’s grace:
“We shall be like him” – pure in heart and sinless;
But his redeeming mercy ends not there;
These bodies like to his shall then be fashioned,
And we his resurrection glory share.
And if you’re wondering, though it’s not really relevant, the restaurant we were expecting to go to had a queue stretching out the door of people waiting for a table. Wagamama next door had plenty of available tables.