Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately – Book of Matthew
Perhaps the reason why God chose Joseph to be the Husband of Mary, and the father of Jesus, was because he was a just man; for “to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” Prov. 21:3, and “the Lord loves justice” Is 61:8. Joseph gives us a beautiful picture of justice which allows us to see how marvelously justice reflects the goodness of God’s character. Not only that, but we can see why God also delights when we perform acts of justice ourselves – then we become a sweet smelling aroma.
Justice is one of those amorphous like concepts that have various shades of meaning; some which apply in a judicial context and others in a moral one. Justice has also developed broader and more nuanced meanings which reflect how the concept was applied during various stages of historical and theological development. But if we can reduce justice to a more basic form, we could say it simply means to give everyone what is due to them. This definition automatically carries us further down the judicial-moral-ethical stream into the pool of duties. To give someone what is due to them conveys a sense of duty. Now one cannot have a duty without there being a corresponding law that dictates the obligation of that duty. In Joseph we see here the manifestation or embodiment of the greatest of commandments in the law: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. We are duty bound to love others as our self.
This story tells us that Joseph, being a just man, did not want to make a public example of Mary, but rather he wanted to separate from her privately. What does this reveal about Joseph? Joseph believed he was wronged, and therefore had the right to publicly accuse and denounce Mary. But rather than bringing this harm on her, even though he felt wronged, he would rather protect her! He wanted to protect her name, as “a good name is to be more desired than riches”. What a beautiful revelation about the nature of a Godly character. An idea that gets more developed throughout the New Testament, a Godly character strives to transcend the limits and demands imposed by self; and it seeks the good of others as much as the self – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
No man is an island. In other words no one can realize their own life to its fullest potential without the help of others. Everyone must contribute to the social good, and likewise, everyone has access to the products and benefits of the social good. Joseph realized that without a good name, Mary would be deprived from much of the social good that would otherwise be accessible to her. Not only that, but this deprivation would also limit the opportunities that would allow her to reciprocate and bestow good on others in need.
How many of us fail to paint others in the best possible light? Beware, for when we do, we diminish the social credit available to them, whether this is in the form of friends, contacts, job opportunities, etc. As sin is opposed to the law and commandments, sin in us naturally disposes us to operate against this love of justice. We see it in young kids all the time. If fact, it seems like my wife and I are constantly confronting our kids about the way they talk about each other; whether it be tattling, or putting each other down. Unfortunately it does not end in childhood. Most of us have just grown more sophisticated in the dark arts of making others look bad. How excellent we are in bringing up the flaws and blunders of others; whether it is our friends, peers, family relatives, or co-workers. We never seem to fail to spotlight their flaws or mistakes. We have become proficient tradesmen in the guilds of gossip, tale-bearing, backbiting, and reviling. Oh how different our environments would be if we, like Joseph, were diligent in protecting the reputation and character of others rather than relishing in their not so great moments.
Even if I was wronged, what can I do today, nay must I do, because I am duty bound to create a safe place for others around me? What effect does being with a safe person have on me? How can I attempt to produce the same effect in others?