I was reading the Christmas story in Matthew chapter 1 and I noticed something I had written in the margin. Our pastor must have preached about this sometime in the past 9 years (since I received this Bible), though I don’t remember the message. I only have my pencil-written comment in the margin, but it sure has given me something to chew on today.
Matthew 1:19 says, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.”
We know, of course, that Joseph and Mary were betrothed and that the Jewish engagement period of the time was legally binding, requiring a divorce to break it. So, Joseph was not Mary’s husband in the fullest sense of the word, but legally he was more than our version of a finance’. If an engaged girl became pregnant and the groom-to-be knew he wasn’t involved, he certainly could have made an example of her. In Deuteronomy 22, Jewish law stated that a young, engaged woman who was found to not be a virgin was to be stoned to death in the doorway of her father’s house by the men of the city. As a just man, Joseph could have demanded that this be done to Mary when she told him she was pregnant.
Yet Joseph is an example to us of God’s perfect balance of justice and kindness. When all the evidence seemed stacked against Mary and Joseph had his reputation and dignity and pride at stake, he had made up his mind to be kind and merciful to Mary. He was going to put her away secretly. He was not going to have her stoned in her father’s doorway; he wasn’t going to report her to the religious leaders; he wasn’t going to make a public example out of her. His love and compassion would not leave room for that.
The note I wrote in the margin of my Bible simply says,
You don’t have to be nasty to be just. Always incline toward mercy.
What a thought to ponder!
Often, we are nasty, even gloating, in the face of another’s sin. We become high-minded and self-righteous and almost seem to enjoy watching someone else get in trouble or be punished. Especially if someone has hurt us or wronged us, we tend to delight in watching their demise. But, as Joseph shows us, we don’t have to be nasty in order to be just. We can wed justice with kindness.
Always incline toward mercy. Even when doling out punishment to my children, I can do it in a merciful, kind way. When dealing with others, I can lean toward mercy. I can give people the benefit of the doubt —- incline toward mercy.
I can be just and kind. Micah 6:8 tells us to do justly AND love mercy. Joseph lives out that verse in Matthew 1, and we can live it out today — with the power of the Holy Spirit.