Read Matthew 1:18-25
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:18-19
A recent devotion from Lutheran Hour Ministries offered a new-to-me insight on Joseph. The author pointed out that the Greek grammar allows for two different ways of translating this phrase:
- Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Or…
- Although Joseph was a just man he was unwilling to put her to shame, and resolved to divorce her quietly.
Justice or mercy: which shall it be? In Joseph’s case, the Law of Moses required that adulterers be stoned. Harsh judgment to be sure; and one Jesus would bump up against in the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11). But it was the law nonetheless. And Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).
What shall happen here? Shall justice prevail, or will Joseph bend toward mercy? In fact in all that Jesus does, both justice and mercy prevail. In reality Mary has done nothing to deserve death; she has been perfectly faithful to God and to Joseph. And at the same time, Joseph will need to offer much mercy to Mary as she carries the Son of God – not his child.
It is a very good thing that Jesus came [how’s that for a profound statement from a follower of Jesus?!?!] because Jesus does perfectly embody justice and mercy. He was perfectly just in all he did his whole life. He was also perfectly merciful to all who recognize their need and call to him in faith. In fact Jesus’ death satisfies the justice of God and displays the mercy of God perfectly. By his stripes (justice) we are healed (mercy).
This is not the time of year that we are accustomed to hear of Jesus’ suffering and death. More often we hear of angels, magi, shepherds, and the manger. This is the mercy of God for us. A Savior is born. And Jospeh’s righteousness is an integral part in God’s redemptive work through his Son, Jesus of Nazareth.
We are not God’s savior. We are at best agents of his love and messengers of his mercy. But we are such agents and messengers. And as such we may be as essential to God’s work of grace in someone’s life as Joseph was in the life of Mary.