Matthew 1:18-25; John 8:1-11
Joseph. He wasn’t the first man to discover his fiancée was unfaithful. One moment all was well, the wedding plans running smoothly and on schedule. The next he was trying to grasp the obvious. His betrothed, Mary, was with child and he was not the father. It was unexpected, unthinkable. He thought he knew his bride-to-be. He trusted her. His plans and dreams included her as his wife and future mother of his children. The news of her pregnancy put those plans to an abrupt end.
We know the rest of the story. We want to shout out, “Hang on Joseph! Better days are coming! Mary is the mother of the Messiah–it’s all good!” But at this point in the events Joseph does not understand. He is suffering betrayal and crushed hopes. He is mourning the death of his beautiful dream. And this is where it gets interesting.
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph is not a pastor or priest, religious teacher or sage. He is an everyday man, a carpenter, blue-collar worker, and yet he is called “a righteous man.” How does he earn this designation? Not by pursuing justice for himself, or vengeance and public retaliation against Mary. The law of his day allowed him to punish Mary for her perceived infidelity. But he didn’t. No, instead he chose mercy, and to protect instead of expose.
Then comes the happy ending. An angel appears. He lets Joseph know that Mary is innocent of adultery and is a virgin carrying a special child, miraculously conceived, who will “save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Joseph takes Mary as his wife and becomes the child’s father. So begins the earthly story of Jesus.
Fast forward to Jesus as an adult. He is teaching at the temple. A group of angry religious leaders bring forward a woman caught in an affair. Interestingly the other partner of the tryst is nowhere to be seen, but they haul her forward. “They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say” (John 8:3-4)?
Thirty years earlier Jesus’ own mother could have been subject to a similar life-threatening humiliation. The circumstances were different, but the same law applied. Joseph, the humble carpenter, chose forgiveness. But the mob of esteemed “teachers of the law” and “Pharisees” (v. 3) was demanding judgement. What does Jesus, God’s son and representative, do? He asks them a simple question: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Jesus learned the true meaning of righteousness from both his earthly and heavenly fathers. It didn’t mean strict adherence to laws and accusations followed with swift vengeance. But instead offered redemption, love, and a chance to repent and change. When all the religious leaders left the woman, not one able to pick up a stone, Jesus turned to her and asked, “‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said.’ ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (vv. 10-11).
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18).