Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Break the Law to Fulfill it

You may have noticed, it's Christmas time. Sorry if this got past you somehow. So we're being constantly bombarded with retellings of the story of Jesus' birth as found in Matthew and in Luke.

This weekend during service, one of our 'resident thespians' performed a monologue as the very pregnant Mary scared out of her mind at Bethlehem before giving birth. Rachael did a great job, imo. One of the lines stuck out to me. It was a paraphrase/expansion of Matthew 1:19-20. In the monologue, it was mentioned that Joseph had every right to divorce Mary under Jewish law, but he didn't do it.

The verses read (in NASB):

(19) And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. (20) But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "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."
Technically, Joseph and Mary were not married yet (they are referenced as being engaged in Luke as they travel to Bethlehem) BUT that has very little to do with laws concerning adultery. If you were engaged, as far as the law was considered, you were considered married.

What was said this weekend is true, Joseph did have every right to divorce Mary (or cancel the wedding). But this isn't the full extent of it. Not only did he have the right, he had the obligation to do so. The law commands him to. And he did plan on it. It says he planned to send her away secretly.

Why secretly?

Because if he did it publicly, Mary would have been killed. She would have been drug to the city gates and stoned to death as is the procedure in the Law.

Joseph didn't believe Mary's story, if he did, he wouldn't have planned on sending her away at all. If he did believe her story, then there would have been no need for an angel to appear to him in a dream to attempt to convince him that it was true.

But because he was righteous, he was planning on divorcing her quietly (even though in his mind, she had committed adultery)...which was not the command of the law. His decision to do this, was a violation of the law of God.

This word righteous in verse 19 is very important. It is used to mean someone who is upholding the law of God. It is someone who is approved by, or acceptable to, God. It is someone who is in tune with God's will and is acting how he would want them to act.

Because of Joseph's righteousness, because he was upholding the divine law of God, he broke the law.

Don't we enjoy the paradox?

His refusal to turn Mary over publicly and have her stoned was a violation of the law. By going against the law and showing mercy where it was not warranted, and grace where it was not commanded for him to do so, he was considered righteous.

He was following God's true law; his law of love, compassion, mercy and grace in the violation of the written law that would have resulted in judgment, condemnation and death for his wife.

It seems that this kind of law, the one of love, is a bit more powerful than the law of condemnation.

That somehow following this law--even when it acts in opposition to the rules that you think you're supposed to follow to make yourself righteous before God--is where true righteousness lies.

That by breaking the law to act in love and compassion, you're really fulfilling it instead.

Don't we see similar things like that all the time? Don't we have all of our own rules, or accepted practices, in the church today that result in condemnation, fear, hatred and judgment? Do we ever step up and around them, or abolish them, in order to act compassionately in a way which that rule would not have allowed?

Where have you seen this sort of thing happen before?

Or, more likely for me, where have you not seen it happen and wished it would have?