19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
Matthew 1:18-19, King James Version
If not for the intervention of God, there would be no question that Mary had acted sinfully. Sex outside of marriage, or fornication in Biblical terms, was well-known as prohibited by God. Clearly, Joseph knew he had not had relations with her and for her to be with child meant she had to have acted sinfully.
But this post is not about Mary nor, completely, about Joseph. Rather, it is about attitudes.
It says Joseph was a just man and that was his motivation for wishing to keep the matter private.
But does not justice demand a person pay for their crimes?
Apparently not. Joseph is praised for being a just man because he did not wish to bring it up publicly. Had he dealt with it publicly, it would have doomed Mary to a life as an outcast at best and possibly much worse. Yet by dealing with the matter privately, it gave her an opportunity to stay within the good graces of society which would improve her future prospects for a happy life.
Of course, if we are familiar with the Biblical story we know she was not, in fact, guilty of that sin and was instead blessed with bearing the Savior of all mankind. But that is beside the point.
The point is the mercy and compassion shown by Joseph towards one who appeared to have acted wrongly was what showed him to be a just man.
It is a lesson we should all take to heart. Instead of seeking out opportunities to vilify, publicly condemn and humiliate people who seem to have gone astray, we should instead seek out ways to minimize the damage done to and by them.
That is not to say we should ignore wrong but rather temper our reaction to it.
I would refer to one of the most mis-quoted, mis-used and abused of all Scriptures:
1Judge not, that ye be not judged
2 For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Matthew 7: 1-2, King James Version
People tend to repeat verse one without reading or referring to the preceding or following material and any verse taken out of context is quite likely to lead to false conclusions.
Instead, it seems to be saying much the same thing as was said about Joseph; be merciful in judgment, realizing you yourself have much to ask forgiveness for.
Certainly it is my goal to continue making this principle of mercy and compassion an ever-greater part of my life.