In Matthew 1:18-19 concerning the virgin birth of Mary, Joseph was referred to as ‘a just man’ (‘And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.’)
What does it mean to be called ‘just’? Such a phrase usually refers to a person who obeys the law and applies rules fairly to all. From the context in that passage, the book of Deuteronomy 22:23 states that, ‘If a betrothed virgin meets a man in the city and lies with him, the two of them are to be stoned.’
But Matthew 1:18-19 affirms that, because Joseph was ‘just’, he decided to break the law of Moses and divorce Mary quietly rather than shame her. He extended mercy and grace.
Isaiah the prophet painted a prophetic picture of a suffering Servant through whom God would one day act in history to save. There are four unique songs in Isaiah describing this. The first is in Isaiah 42:3, ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.’
Justice, as understood here, is neither ‘retributive justice’ (I do unto you what you do to me), nor is it ‘equal application of law’ (If this happens to me, it must happen to you too). But it means compassion for the weak and exhausted. Joseph looked beyond the penalties of the law in order to reach out with tenderness to a young woman who was no doubt bruised and weak. She was vulnerable. Perhaps he saw Mary as a ‘dimly burning wick’.
This prophetic definition of justice required a compassionate concern for the weak, the downtrodden, in their need. In his dealings with Mary, Joseph acted out of this prophetic definition of justice without which Jesus would not have been born.
People usually talk about Mary and her courage, but the one I truly respect here is Joseph. He was a just and courageous man, not passive but bold! He was a man who feared God, whose heart overflowed with grace and mercy, whose bold decision at a point of crisis saved the life of the mother and her unborn child.
I think I better understand Micah 6:8 now when it says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
How can we be just in this day and age? Perhaps the first step is to ask the Lord to open our eyes to the brokenness of the world and see those around us who need kindness to be extended to them.
Justice might come in the form of supporting an overwhelmed single parent struggling to find the time and resources for his or her children. Or perhaps justice takes the form of caring for a foster child. Justice is also extending kindness to someone who repeatedly falls and is trying to get back up on his feet. Being just is connected with loving mercy and kindness and walking humbly.
Help us, Father, to be faithful in this. Every man, woman and child has been created in Your image with dignity and worth. Help us to relate to one another in this world as fellow image bearers, showing grace to those with whom we differ, demonstrating love even, and especially to our enemies, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ.