Saturday, October 23, 2010

Joseph's Just Response (Matthew 1:19)

"Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly."
—Matthew 1:19—

A Prime Example

What does it mean to be just? Joseph had entered into a marriage contract with Mary. In Jewish culture, this covenant was made about a year before the marriage was consummated. In this binding contract, Joseph and Mary were expected to remain celibate. They were saving themselves for each other.

I could not imagine the pain that Joseph must have felt when he received the news that Mary had become pregnant. The woman that he loved, trusted, and patiently waited for was pregnant, and he was not the father. Based on the information that he had received, Joseph had every right to pursue a divorce (a divorce was necessary because of the binding nature of the marriage contract) on the grounds of infidelity. Not only that, he could have made the divorce public so that everyone could see his innocence in the situation. No one would be able to suggest that he had impregnated Mary, then secretly divorced her. A public divorce would have ensured that no one could attack his integrity. The community would have supported him fully and he would have received sympathy. He could have sought to humiliate Mary. He could have turned everyone against her. He could have taken revenge.

Joseph did none of this. Instead, he decided to "put her away secretly." This meant that Joseph would validate his divorce in the presence of two required witnesses. All the details would have remained private. He put his own reputation on the line to ensure that Mary, the one who he thought betrayed him, would not be publicly disgraced. Joseph was a just man.

A Hard Reality

Betrayal is an ugly thing, but even uglier is vengeance. Sometimes people hurt us in ways that cause indescribable pain. Many times this pain affects us for much, if not all, of our lives. There is no doubt that Joseph, had God not interceded, would have never forgotten his feelings of betrayal. Did Joseph consider taking revenge on Mary for what he thought she did to him? Scripture does not reveal this information. What it does reveal though, is that he did not set out to act on any vengeful thoughts that he might have had. He chose to preserve as much of Mary's dignity as possible.

When others hurt us, many times our first internal reaction is vengeance. We want our offenders to feel the same, if not worse, pain that they have caused us. Many spend a great deal of their lives telling all who will listen of the painful offense that was done. I do not intend to downplay the severity of the offense or the reality of the pain; things such as abuse, neglect, infidelity, rape, abandonment, and several other tragic events can affect someone for a lifetime. No person should ever be hurt in such a way. When someone hurts us, it is not our responsibility to be painless; our responsibility is to respond to the pain in a just way.

Justice sometimes demands legal action. Joseph's just nature was not compromised by his intention to obtain a legal divorce. His justness would have been compromised though, if he had decided to retaliate against Mary. Joseph's intentions were to inform only the people who needed to know of what happened. He did not want to get back at her by telling everyone about the situation.

An Act of Justness

When someone hurts you, and you need to talk with someone about it, tell only one or two people that you know you can trust. Get it all out, but make sure that they are people who will maintain complete confidence. If you feel that you need it, seek professional counseling. If you were hurt in a way that demands legal action, do not feel guilty about taking it. 

If reconciliation is possible, be reconciled to your offender. If not, then ask Christ to help you forgive and move forward. Just because the pain remains does not mean that you must hold a grudge. Forgive the person who hurt you and continually hand your pain over to Christ. Be patient; He will give you joy.

Keep what was done between you, the offender, and only those who need to know. If you talk to one or two people about it for therapeutic purposes, do it with the right intentions

Do not seek vengeance by telling several people about the sin that was committed against you. Never try to rub the person's name in the dirt. Do not try to get even by destroying the offender's reputation.

If what happened to you is a vital part of your testimony, avoid using the person's name or obvious references that indicate his or her identity.

Seek not vengeance, but love.

In all things, be just.

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