“Honey, you were right.”
I’ve had to say those words to my wife. Every time I do, her hearing suddenly goes weak so I have to repeat it. She threatens to write down the date but never does.
Every couple knows what I am talking about, including healthy ones that don’t keep score.
Long ago, before the first Noel, a Jewish carpenter named Joseph was famous for being right. The Bible introduced him as “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19). Righteousness basically refers to a right standing with God and there is no better way to be right than that.
Of course, that was before he was married.
Sometimes it hurts to be right, or at least to think we are. Joseph was pledged to a woman named Mary who turned up pregnant before they tied the knot. Heartbroken and probably angry, Joseph entertained no doubts about being right on how wrong she had treated him. And there was no way he could be wrong.
But he was wrong. God had chosen Mary, a young virgin, to play a unique role in His plan of salvation by giving birth to God’s Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Do you know any heartbroken husband-to-be who has heard such an unusual explanation for such an awkward situation? Neither did Joseph.
Nevertheless, Joseph was wrong. May was innocent. Her story checked out, and it took the angel Gabriel to drive that correction home to Joseph’s righteous mind. Gabriel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20).
It’s like everyone Gabriel met had to be told not to be afraid in one way or another. I wonder if Joseph actually said to Mary, “Honey, I was wrong.” In any case, he did marry Mary, after all—linking little Jesus in full measure to the royal line of David.
When a national census was called, Joseph did his civic duty and traveled to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife to register. As a righteous and religious man, Joseph had his Son circumcised eight days after Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary dutifully consecrated their first born to the Lord and offered a sacrifice “in keeping with the law of the Lord.” (Luke 2:24). They could not afford a lamb so they offered two doves and a couple pigeons. As Luke narrated, “When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.” (Luke 2;39).
Let’s back up. When Joseph was first called “a righteous man,” that description had little to do with being right all the time. There was much more to his righteousness than keeping regulations (which he did dutifully). Actually, his righteousness was given as the reason he did not want to disgrace the woman he thought betrayed him. Instead, he intended to privately call off their marriage. In other words, Joseph’s righteousness was a kind of kindness that prevented him from publically plastering Mary to the wall of justice to teach her a lesson. As heartbroken as Joseph was, a righteous kindness survived in his soft heart.
Two millennia later, I have seen couples on a mission to punish each other, even for sins long since confessed, repented of, and forgiven. No! Punishment and forgiveness do not run well together. Being righteous is not a formula for being unnecessarily mean to those who fail you. Real righteousness results in deeds of mercy and kindness. Jesus later told a parable about some sheep and goats in which he claimed it was “the righteous” who had seen the hungry and fed them, or the thirsty and gave them something to drink (Matthew 25:37).
No wonder Joseph’s boy grew up to preach things like, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled,” (Matthew 5:8).