When Joseph was confronted with Mary’s pregnancy, he didn’t know what to do. He knew for certain that he was not the father. He also knew Mary’s character and could not reconcile the two. Had she been raped? Why had she told no one? Justice and mercy battled in his heart.
Later in the gospels, the Pharisees would do what the law required and expose the adulterous woman and condemn her to death by stoning. Joseph could not bring himself to do that, nor could he bring himself to marry Mary to hide her sin. At last he settled on sending her away quietly, keeping her shame hidden.
Mercy had won. There was no self-righteous anger of a man scorned, just pity for the sinner. It was only after his heart was tested that he was told that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit and that Jesus would come to save his people from their sins. Jesus would be like both His fathers.
Later Jesus would be betrayed by a kiss to His very death. He would be publically humiliated and mocked like the woman caught in adultery. In justice, He could have killed us all, but He extended mercy saying that we did not know what we were doing. He covered our shame with His grace.
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