Summary: A sermon about Jesus' earthly father--Joseph.
“Righteousness Based on Love, Not Law”
What is the first image that pops into your mind when you hear the word “righteous”?
Do you think of some fire and brimstone preacher with beady eyes who points his finger at sinners and declares them guilty in the eyes of an angry god?
Or do you think of angels and harps and clouds?
Perhaps you think of righteous indignation—anger at injustice.
Maybe the first image to pop into your head is someone who comes off as self-righteous, thinking they are better than others as far as morals and character are concerned.
Or perhaps, you think of a good and virtuous person—someone like Mother Teresa or St. Francis.
Maybe you think of something mean, something cruel, something inflexible and unmoveable.
We don’t tend to use the word “righteous” very much these days.
At least, I don’t hear it in every day conversations.
It may be a kind of strange word to our ears.
In any event, Matthew says that Joseph was a “righteous man.”
There's a rich history behind this idea.
The Hebrew word for a righteous man would normally mean that Joseph was known for his uncompromising obedience to the Torah, the law of Moses.
This would mean that Joseph didn't eat unclean food.
He didn't mix with the wrong kinds of people.
He didn't keep his carpentry shop open on the Sabbath to make a few extra bucks.
He was a righteous man; that was his identity.
Everybody knew this about him.
Nobody invited Joseph over to have ham sandwiches with tax collectors and prostitutes.
He was what other people wanted to be.
Like a businessperson in our day wants to be a CEO, or like an athlete wants to be a pro, an Israelite wanted to be righteous.
Becoming righteous meant you were admired and looked up to.
You were somebody.
And that was Joseph.
But now Joseph is a righteous man with a problem.
The girl he has promised to marry is going to have a baby, and whoever the father is, Joseph knows it's not him.
Nazareth is a small town, and as a general rule, word gets around in a small town.
Everybody knows everybody else’s business in a small town.
The Torah has some clear instructions about what to do to somebody in Mary's condition.
According to Deuteronomy Chapter 22: If a woman pledged to be married is unfaithful "She shall be brought to the door of her father's house, and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.”
That’s pretty clear.
Joseph's reputation as a righteous man was on the line.
The other righteous men in his town would have told him this sin must be publicly exposed and punished.
But Joseph couldn't bring himself to do this.
And it’s because Joseph was a “righteous man.”
I thought being “righteous” meant that you followed all the Old Testament Laws to the T!!!
I thought it meant you were perfect in that sense, inflexible in that sense…
Could it be that being righteous means something more than following the “letter of the Law.”
We read that “an angel of the Lord” is the one who told Joseph about Mary becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit…
…but before this, Joseph already knew Mary was pregnant.
How do you suppose he knew?
Mary told him, of course!
Can you imagine what he must of thought when she said, “Joseph I am pregnant by the Holy Spirit”?
What would you think if your girlfriend or wife or friend told you the same thing?
Would you believe her?
Of course not!
Obviously, Joseph didn’t believe Mary either.
Joseph had to think Mary had been unfaithful to him.
And this must have broken his heart.
He must have felt utterly betrayed and humiliated.
He very easily, in his anger and in his being a “righteous man”--according the law-- could have had her put to death.
This would have saved him a lot of trouble.
And most of all, it would have saved his reputation.
But instead, Joseph, being a “righteous man”…did not want Mary publicly disgraced nor publicly stoned to death, so he planned instead to end the marriage quietly.
And at first, people would just think they had a falling out.
But as soon as people started to notice that Mary was pregnant, they would come to believe that before their actual wedding ceremony Joseph and Mary had been intimate and then Joseph had dumped her.
And Joseph would take most all the blame.
Her dignity would remain intact.
No one would be put to death.
This implies that the real meaning of righteousness, in God’s eyes, is to be merciful, forgiving, loving and to show others grace.
Despite all his pain.
Despite all the betrayal that Joseph must have felt, he still had compassion for Mary.