I'm taking part in a new group Bible study examining the Book of Matthew. I have participated in ladies' Bible studies for years and then took a two or three year hiatus as life became hectic. I've been reminded that group Bible study is used by God to be one of the most healing activities in my life. Somehow in trying to prioritize, I let go of the very thing that got me through the hardest times in life. Here I am again, trudging through some tough things and God is using His word and His people to bring fresh water to dry places.
We began our first week examining the very first chapter of Matthew. Having grown up in church it appeared there was nothing much new to me and I skimmed over some verses and questions thinking I had heard it all before. And that's where God stepped in and showed me His word is still living and active and sharper than a doubled edged sword. I saw one of the beloved characters of Jesus' birth in a completely new way.
The scripture tells us of how Joseph, Mary's betrothed, learns of Mary's pregnancy. Given the circumstances this appeared to be dire - these two had not yet consummated their relationship. I can only imagine the shame, anger, and embarrassment Joseph must have felt as Mary told him of her unbelievable situation with a quivering voice. For the first time in reading this story, I realized that BEFORE revelation and explanation from God's angel, Joseph was unwilling to put his betrothed wife to shame. Verse 1:19 says: And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
The punishment for adultery at this time was stoning and death. Before ending the life of the guilty party, the offender was publicly tormented and tortured. Joseph had every reason to begin that public display of condemnation and right the wrong done to him but the Bible says he resolved to take care of things quietly. Joseph's actions were not just contrary to the way of doing things in Bible times but contrary to how we handle wrong doing today. Today, we take to the Internet to call out the dirty and the despicable. We may not throw stones but we throw words and we may not kill the body but we seek to destroy reputation.
In my own life, I have had to confess some pretty hard things to my husband. Not adultery, or murder or some other huge crime...just the little ways I've not been completely honest over the years and how they've snowballed into bigger problems. My own sins were not even malicious. In my own messed up way, I thought I was helping when in reality I was only creating a bigger mess.
I imagine Mary expected to be dragged out into the street upon sharing her news - I felt like that, too. But I have learned, I married a just man who is unwilling to put me to shame. We sing about the forgiveness and redemption we receive from Jesus every week in church but there is something so powerful when the person you hurt the most makes a decision to forgive and restore you. I have always overlooked Joseph's kindness and gentleness and sadly, I overlooked my own husband in this way, too.
Joseph continues to be a quiet hero in the story of Jesus' young life. He takes direction and warning from the Lord and guards the life of his wife and the miracle baby. Joseph set aside his own rights and desires to protect and care for the family God gave him. Surely he was not without his moments of questioning, anger and frustration. This was likely not the life he envisioned for himself.
Some days we pray for miracles - thinking they will show themselves as immediate healing, financial windfalls and good fortune. God is showing me through this study, that forgiveness is the greatest miracle. Especially, the forgiveness that is given from one human to another during the most painful situations. Over time, that forgiveness is what will bring about the growth and change we so desperately crave. Isn't it amazing that God used to Joseph's act of forgiveness and acceptance to protect the Son of Man who would ultimately forgive and accept us all? What if we all became unwilling to shame our spouses, our children, our friends and even our enemies and chose to care, protect, and defend them instead?