Summary: This is a first-person narrative of Joseph; preached in a series of narratives for Advent
A Cause for Peace
Rabbi, I am afraid. Everything in my life has been turned upside down, and for the first time in my life, I do not know what to do. What’s wrong? Mary is going to have a baby and it is not mine.
When I was a child and my parents arranged my marriage to Mary, I never dreamed I could come to love her so much. But when the time of our betrothal came, she had captured my heart completely. We have been honorable throughout the year of betrothal. Now that the time is nearing the end, I was so looking forward to claiming my bride, to bringing her into my home and starting a family of my own.
Now I find that she has been unfaithful to me! I know, I know. I could not believe it myself when I found out. Mary has always seemed such a faithful and wonderful young woman. I know that in Judea, betrothed couples are allowed to spend time alone together—but Mary would not hear of it. We followed the custom of our people here in Galilee—we were always chaperoned. Neither Mary nor I wanted any question about our character and our commitment to God’s ways. And now this—I find that she has made a fool of me. Her piety was unreal. Her faith was just a lie.
Where is she now? Not that it makes a difference, but she’s run off to see her cousin, Elizabeth. Mary claims that her pregnancy is not what I think, and she claims to have been told by an angel to go and see Elizabeth. I think she’s just trying to run away from the trouble she’s in.
Rabbi, what should I do? Divorce her? Of course—that is the only way to break a betrothal. I must give her a bill of divorcement. But beyond the divorce itself—how should I handle the situation? That is where I am confused.
Of course your right, the law demands that Mary pay for what she has done. You know me, Rabbi. From childhood I have been raised to follow God. His will has always been the main goal of my life. I have followed his law as closely as I know how. How can I turn my back on his Law now?
To be honest, part of me wants nothing else but justice here. She betrayed my trust. She broke our vows of commitment to each other. She has to pay. It has been years and years since the law of stoning an adulteress has been carried out (Rome looks down on our Law). But, if I divorce her publicly, she will carry the shame of her unfaithfulness the rest of her life. No man will ever want her again, and every time she looks at the child of her unfaithfulness she will be reminded of her sin and guilt.
That is what I ought to do, Rabbi—I know this. But the larger part of me wants something more than justice. Please do not look at me with such disappointment. I love her, Rabbi. No matter what she has done to me, I love her—and I do not want to hurt my betrothed. While I clearly cannot marry her, I do not want her to be shamed. I do not want society to see her as an evil person. Rabbi, part of me tells me to let the whole world know what she had done to me. My love tells me to show her mercy. Is there a way I can be merciful? Is there a way I can protect her from shame? Is there a way I can find peace in this time of confusion in my life?
I am sorry to disappoint you, Rabbi. I know that righteousness demands justice. I just do not think I can carry justice through here. I will go home now. I need time to think this through. Thank you for listening. I hope that someday you will understand why I am in such a dilemma. Perhaps we can talk tomorrow, after I have slept and hopefully cleared my head? Good, good—then I will see you tomorrow.
Rabbi! Rabbi! You will never believe what has happened! After I left you, I went home and thought and prayed through most of the evening til late in the night. I finally reached my decision. I would divorce Mary quietly—give her the bill of divorcement and simply not list a charge. She could then go to live with Elizabeth, far enough away that no one would ever know what happened. I could just tell people that we decided to end the betrothal and leave it at that. Mary would be free to live her life how she saw fit. She could find someway to hide her shame.