by Heather Bock
Reading the Christmas story this year made me start thinking about what it means to be righteous. I don’t mean the righteousness that covers us as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the faith that we put in Him as our only salvation (Phil. 3:9). I’m talking about living righteously here on earth.
Living a righteous life means following God’s commands, doesn’t it? If justice needs to be served, a just person would see it to completion.
Now, consider the following two passages.
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her…and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,”…if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel” (Deut. 22:13-14b, 20-21a)
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man (also called “just” in the ESV) and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly” (Matt. 1:18-19).
As Christ-followers, we are not under the Law anymore, as He fulfilled it for us (Matt. 5:17, Heb. 10) and has established a new covenant with us (Heb. 8). However, Joseph was still under the Law, and he did his best to follow it. At the time, a man wouldn’t be truly righteous unless he followed the Law as strictly as possible.
Look at what the Law says about what to do with women who have sex before marriage. If Joseph was truly just and righteous, shouldn’t he have followed the Law and made sure Mary had been served justice by being stoned? He had apparent ample proof that she was not a virgin—the girl was pregnant. On top of that, can you imagine the betrayal he felt—the pain at finding who he thought would be his godly wife to be unfaithful and possibly mentally unstable, as she insisted the Holy Spirit was the reason for this surprise.
What does it say?
Joseph, being a righteous man, didn’t want to disgrace her. He “planned to send her away secretly” (Matt. 1:19).
Because he was a just man, he didn’t plan to give her justice. He offered forgiveness. He gave her mercy.
These lines telling us about the righteousness of Joseph’s mercy, give me serious pause and make me rethink how I define justice and righteous behavior.
God, choosing Joseph to be the one to raise Jesus in His earthly life, shows us that He cares more about love, mercy, and forgiveness than He does the letter of the Law. As Jesus said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
I hope this Christmas you can find a way to follow Joseph’s example and offer others the gift of love, forgiveness, and mercy.