Joseph and Mary in an Age of Social Media
Robert Wurtz II
“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19 ESV).
It is all too common to see folks “air their dirty laundry” on social media these days. The expression, “air dirty laundry” means to talk about things publically (usually a relationship or family problem) that should be kept private. To use another expression, lovers and family members “throw each other under the bus” and don’t seem to think twice about it or show any remorse. They seem to know nothing of the attitude that Joseph took towards Mary.
Joseph was a righteous man. He understood that when a woman (or man) had committed adultery that the penalty (according to the Law of Moses) was death by stoning (Deut. 22:23-24). Divorce would have been a show of mercy. At the time of his decision to privately divorce Mary, Joseph had no idea that she was with child by the Holy Spirit. The only possible explanation for her pregnancy was unfaithfulness. We must keep this clear as we consider this important passage of scripture.
Not only did Joseph determine to divorce her rather than stone her, but he also took measures to keep the matter quiet. He didn’t allow the betrayal, disappointment, anger, resentment, and a plethora of negative and burning emotions drive him to embarrass her or even talk about the matter in public. It was not his purpose to “make her a public example.” This is the Greek word deigmatisai from the root deiknumi that means “to show” as we find in Colossians 2:15 when Jesus “made a show of them openly (…)”. The Latin Vulgate translates the word as traducere, which means parade someone around in disgrace. John Wycliffe translated it as pupplische (publish) and Tyndale as defame.
Clearly, Joseph wasn’t looking to retaliate. He loved Mary and didn’t want the situation to erupt into a scandal that would have marked her identity for life. This attitude would be very helpful in modern society when people behave like a pack of wolves when they smell the slightest scent of blood. We see it every day. Someone does something wrong or is caught in a scandal, and a mob starts to form. Before the person even has a proper hearing they are torn to pieces in the public, and the masses gather around to devour the remains like a feeding frenzy.
I recently read a quote that said in effect, “I pray about my personal problems rather than venting to people about them because I don’t want sympathy, I need strength.” What a powerful statement. Sometimes we want sympathy at the expense of the person who wronged us. I suggest that we can learn a thing or two from the attitude of Joseph. What does it profit to blast personal problems all over the internet for sympathy, when we need strength to handle things righteously and mercifully? Human nature is to blow a situation up. It doesn’t take any grace or talent to do that.
Sometimes talking about a personal relationship problem or a family dispute in public can destroy all hope of reconciliation. Private issues should be kept private whenever possible.* Hypothetically, what if Joseph would have made a public disgrace of Mary and then later found out she was with child of the Holy Spirit? How would he have “walked back” his actions? How would they have gone forward? The same is true today. Long after the feuding parties reconcile people still remember the feud. Understand that there are times when people have to be made a public example (1 Tim. 5:20), but this is not because of a one-off mistake or sin, but a pattern of unrepentant behavior.
There will be plenty of times in our lives when we will both need forgiveness and will need to forgive. We must tread carefully. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you fell into sin or scandal? Love will seek to conceal a matter so that healing can take place. Galatians tells us that a spiritual person will humbly work to restore others who are overtaken in sins and faults (Galatians 6:1). The Devil is the accuser. Joseph got it right in his refusal to blow up and make a greater mess of the situation than it already seemed to be.
Note* For those who might troll this article, if the problem is physical abuse don’t go on Facebook, call the police.