Advent Reading 2: Matthew 1:18-25
I wonder how Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. In verse 18 it just says that she “was found” to be with child. Maybe she approached Joseph and told him flat out. Or maybe she was too scared to tell him, and he found out when he noticed her expanding midsection.
I can’t even imagine how he felt. From his perspective, the text might as well read, “And before they were officially married, Mary was found to have cheated on him.” Because that’s what her swelling abdomen had every appearance of being – evidence of her broken engagement vows.
In the Jewish culture of the day, marriage happened in two steps. Step one was the betrothal and there was a ceremony to commemorate that. Step two was the actual wedding ceremony. Step one, however, was so binding that after the couple was betrothed, the laws of adultery came into effect and the relationship couldn’t be terminated without a divorce.
And those laws stated that if a woman was convicted of adultery she could be stoned to death.
Joseph had every right to defend his honor. It was right there in the law. Mary had brought shame upon him by being unfaithful and coming up with a fantastic lie about it.
Clearly, he didn’t believe the truth. Not yet, at least.
The Things that Just Men Do
Joseph chose to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of it. He decided to “divorce her quietly,” without all the publicity.
He could have divorced her publicly. And then the shame would have been transferred from him to her. But he was a “just man” and he was unwilling to shame her publicly.
Mary would have died for her swollen belly. But Joseph was prepared to bear the shame so that she could live.
Just like Jesus.
“He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
Joseph bore Mary’s shame so that Jesus could come and bear ours.