When the nativity story is told, we mostly hear about Mary, the mother of Jesus. For centuries, Mary has been extolled and honored, as she should be. Joseph, however, has often been regarded as a mere footnote to the story.
Today, I’d like to give Joseph his due.
By my lights, Joseph was one of the most righteous men who ever lived. Now when most modern Christians think of a “righteous man,” they think of things like being a good husband, a patient father, a trusted and successful employee who lives a good clean life (doesn’t smoke, drink, chew or run with those who do), and so on.
I have no doubts that Joseph was upright in these areas. But the Bible gives us a much deeper peek at what a righteous person is and how he or she reacts to certain situations. Consider Matthew 1:19-20:
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to put her away quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew says that because Joseph was a righteous man, he chose not to publicly disgrace and shame Mary, even though (according to his knowledge at the time) she deserved it.
Let that marinate a few moments.
How many Christians today would react the same way that Joseph did if they were standing in his shoes?
Joseph wasn’t out for blood. He didn’t justify in his mind the act of bringing public disgrace upon Mary. Instead, he took the high road and put her away privately, lest she face public humiliation and shame.
I’m sure Joseph’s blood boiled when he heard that the woman who was betrothed to him in marriage was pregnant…and not by him. But because he was a righteous man, he showed mercy. He treated her as if he were in her own shoes and was guilty of what he had assumed she did.
Perhaps Joseph thought to himself what his step-son would say to a woman worthy of death almost 30 years later, “He who has never sinned, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7).
Perhaps after the initial anger, pain and rage subsided, Joseph took a good, hard look at his own life and recalled the many times where he himself missed the mark.