Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18-20 ESV)
There’s a small expression that jumped out at me as I read this earlier, and I think it stands as a timely reminder for us all.
Joseph’s actions in this text, prior to the angel’s explanation of what was going on, were really exemplary. Here was a young man that had worked hard at a trade, saved his resources, fallen in love, given his hard earned resources to a girl’s father as a dowry, and was waiting on the time that she would be his wife. His character here is above reproach. He is a good guy. From the sound of it, he’s the kind of man I’d be glad to give my daughter’s hand to in marriage. Even the way that Joseph was going to break the relationship, after finding out about Mary’s pregnancy, was honorable and respectful despite the shame and pain that he had to be working through.
It is this character that caused Joseph to do something that we all should do. The text says that AFTER he had decided to “divorce her quietly”, for perfectly righteous and justifiable reasons, he took time and “considered these things”. Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s seeming indiscretion was decided, but he wasn’t so shallow as to put it all behind him, quickly wash his hands of the thing, and move on from her as fast as he could. He took time to re-think, to make sure that he wasn’t being rash, to consider everything again. This is wisdom.
Mary had, we can assume, never lied to him before. She had never acted in a way that would cause him to lose trust in her. She hadn’t given any behavioral signs that this kind of thing would ever happen. Joseph wasn’t satisfied to simply knee-jerk his response without taking a second look within himself and at the situation.
It was this “consideration” that became the backdrop for the angel to explain everything to him. All of his shame and his worst case scenario dissolved in the angel’s reassurance. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that God’s message came to him as Joseph was taking his time before finalizing anything.
We live in a world where the norm seems to be “shout first, apologize later”. This tendency to allow no time between decision and action is the source of much of the political polarization that we see in modern America, as well as one of the key factors in the animosity that the general culture holds towards the church. We have been very good at having patented answers “at the ready” for any and every sin and sinner that we may come up against – excluding the ones we might still be working on of course – and we are quick to fire off words that are easily received as condemnation. What would it look like if the questions that we were attacked with were met with slow, measured consideration? What if we were to take a moment and attempt to see the truth, or the hurt, or the longing, or the reaching in those questions, and even in those attacks? How would that change our response? What might that open our hearts to?
This isn’t merely a church issue, I can see this as an incredibly needed trait for parents to learn and install on an instinctive level as we talk with our children. So often we need to stop giving our answers and start considering the questioner and the reason the question has been generated. Then we may find that our answers, measured and compassionate, begin to actually mean something.
At work we would do well to have a plan as we interact with our co-workers and supervisors. But at the same time, being able to step back for a moment and consider the situation before we retort could save us from un-needed problems, or even from unemployment.
My encouragement is that we would live lives of consideration. The more life-altering the decision is, the more we should be stepping away, into a quiet place, and review and pray and consider just what it is we are thinking about doing. Who knows when God might show up and give us the “big picture”?