Who is Just?



MATTHEW 1:18-25


1 KINGS 4:16-28

joseph      Mary finds herself in a dangerous situation in today’s passage. She has done nothing wrong, but it is highly doubtful that anyone will believe her. Her fiancé doesn’t even believe her. And who would blame him. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit? Come on Mary, that is not the way things work, you are old enough to know that. The consequences for Mary though could be very severe. At the very least Mary would be shunned and shamed by her family and friends for violating the Torah/Law and betraying her promises to her family and her future husband. Worse case, which also happens to be the most likely scenario, she would be stoned to death as prescribed in Leviticus 20:10. Often during the Christmas season we romanticize and simplify the Christmas story so that it is teachable to children. I think this is warranted since it is important to raise our children up in the faith and there are some things we can not talk about with them. But the downside is that we often forget that God had put Mary in a life and death situation. Her life is quite literally in Joseph’s hands. The scriptures record that Joseph was a “just man” and sought to divorce Mary quietly. There is some debate among commentators about what exactly this passage means. Some commentators suggest that this particular verse should be translated, “although being righteous” Joseph was not willing to expose her publicly. The argument for this interpretation goes that justice/righteousness which are the same word in the Greek, is defined by obedience to the Law and the Law does say that an adulterous woman or man should be stoned. Thus in this interpretation Joseph is choosing a path that goes against what is explicitly written in God’s Law. The second option is that Joseph “justness” corresponded with not exposing Mary to public shame and death because he was abiding by what was obviously an act of God. Well it is clear from the text that Joseph did not believe Mary’s story so it seems unlikely that Joseph knew that he was obeying God, if he did, he wouldn’t have even considered divorcing Mary. The word in this passage for “put to shame” basically means to expose to public ridicule, to make known to all the world, it is where we get our modern word denigrate. Based on this key word my argument is that whether Joseph believed his actions were abiding by God’s Word or going against God’s Word, God through the Virgin “Conception” as it should be properly called, is exposing Joseph, breaking down his concept of justice, the Law, the Scriptures, and God’s Will, and reorienting all of this around the Holy Spirit. We see Jesus reorient our sense of justice in John 8:1-11 where a crowd brings an adulterous woman to him to be stoned, in their minds fulfilling the command of Leviticus 20:10. Of course, we see in this story that they are already not taking this verse seriously. Because they only bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and not the man. Perhaps because this is a group of men who are used to the same sort of double standard that still exist today around sexual purity and behavior for men and woman, that being men are applauded for sleeping around while women are looked down upon. It has been my life experience that everyone cries for justice, judgment, and dare I say vengeance, until that justice applies to you or someone you care about. Then folks who tend to be law and order, crime and punishment, black and white sort of people, suddenly start appealing for grace, mercy, and understanding. The Gospel of John says that Jesus knew the hearts of man, and this story just proves that. This angry crowd is demanding Jesus permission to do what they have already set in their hearts to do anyway. And instead of answering them Jesus takes a break and starts writing in the dirt. No one knows what he wrote. I like to think that Jesus thought that reacting to such witch hunting was beneath him and he was taking time to collect his thoughts. And then he says that famous line; “Let him who has no sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And one by one, beginning with the older ones, the crowd walks away till there is no one left but the woman and Jesus. In our hearts we know why the older ones walked away first don’t we? I know the older I get Paul’s words in Romans 3:10 ring more and more true to me; “There is no one righteous not one.” And yet there are those in the church and in the world today who would take grace to mean that there is nothing we should be ashamed of, that we should get rid of words like “sin” that scripture can mean anything you want it to mean and that loving people means letting them make their own mistakes, even if that means remaining silent even when we know and perhaps they know the path they are following IS not according to the scriptures, the Will of God, or our their own conscience. Jesus reply to that side of the debate is his response to the woman in this story. He asked her, “Woman , where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” “Go and sin no more.” In a 2012 Newsweek article a neurosurgeon who went through a seven day coma, claimed to have an out of body experience where he claimed to experience heaven . Now as you may have gathered I am all about including personal and religious experience into my understanding of scripture. But one thing this doctor claimed God told him I think is directly contradicted by Scripture. The doctor claims that God told him; “You can do nothing wrong.” I know I am walking into dangerous territory judging another person’s out of body experience but it seems to me that the message, “you can do nothing wrong” is not so much God’s message as it is our culture’s message. In fact, I think the main reason we come to the Christian life is that we realize we have done wrong, and no twelve step program with a nameless higher power, that could be a tree if we decide it to be, will help us. We come to Jesus because we know we cannot save ourselves and that in him we see the face of the living God. If we can truly do nothing wrong, and that doctor is right, there may indeed be a God of love, but there is certainly not a God of justice, and all of those who have suffered at the hand of injustice and cried out to God, have in fact cried out in vain. People want a God of Love or a God of justice. It is hard for us to understand how He can be both. In fact, the Bible tells us how God can be both a God of justice and a God of Love. You see the word in this chapter for “to expose” or to “put to public shame” is found one other place in the New Testament and that is in the book of Colossians 2: 13-15 which reads; “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and the authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. “ At this point in my life I have come to realize two things. What the Bible has to say about sin, even those really unpopular verses that we find to be backward, verses that challenge how we live our personal lives, how we use our money, verses that challenge what party we think Jesus would or would not vote for, verses that are inconvenient and are tearing our denomination apart, are true. I have also come to see that there is no one righteous, that there is no one just. The Bible remembers King Solomon as a wise king I think because he was able to discern what was just, at least for a time. He was able to discern how to apply the Truth, the Law of God in a circumstance in a way that brought life and not death. The basic fact of human existence is that we all want justice and don’t want justice at the same time because deep in our hearts we knew if we could see what was just from God’s eyes, that justice would justly cut both ways, that it would require a change from all of us, a change that we are often not prepared to give, because we are self righteous, which essentially means we want justice, we want fairness, for ourselves and no one else. Everyone is crying out for justice, everyone wants everyone else to get their just deserts, to get their acts together, and what ends up happening is that forces beyond our control, these authorities and powers, which the Bible would say is the Devil, demons, and corrupt structures of this world, take what was meant for good, such as the sanctity of marriage, and use it to shame and even stone people. But the Bible says that because he died and rose again Jesus exposed our true enemy, so that we may not fear being exposed ourselves. So that we could come into the light, so we can nail our sins to the cross, so that we can live lives where justice and mercy shall come to a place where they kiss and are reconciled as Psalm 85:10 says. Will you come into the light today? Will you trust in Jesus if you haven’t already? For as 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares, through him, we can become the righteousness, the justice of God. By his grace, though we are sinners, we can become just men and women. So that the world may see our works and hear our testimony and give glory to our Father in Heaven. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Psalm 8510:

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