When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly. ~Luke 7
Scripture does not say a word about how Joseph might have felt when he knew Mary was pregnant. This is hardly surprising. There is not a single word attributed to Joseph in any of the Gospels. What we do know is how Joseph acted —righteously and quietly, he himself being the embodiment of that far-too-often discarded evangelical advice: do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
There is surely a public aspect to Joseph’s actions. He and Mary were betrothed, meaning they had given public and binding vows to each other, although (as the text explains) they had not yet lived together as man and wife. The conclusion people would most likely reach on their own was that Mary had committed adultery.
Proven adultery was punishable with death by stoning under the Law of Moses. Joseph being a “righteous” man, he would surely want to abide by the law. That would imply subjecting Mary to a trial, judgment, and most likely, death. All of these were indeed public, lawful events that could hardly be described as “quiet” —there is surely nothing discreet about a public stoning.
It seems like the “quieter” solution would be taking the blame. Joseph might have considered sparing Mary’s life (a righteous, although not necessarily “lawful” solution) and moving elsewhere, in hiding, while letting people think he got Mary pregnant and abandoned her, waiving his right to judge her. It is clear, from the text, that he had no desire to see her publicly humiliated. Better him than her, even if no one would ever recognize his merit. Do not let your left hand know.
May this Advent help us understand the real value of the good (and bad) things we do in hiding.
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we, who are weighed down from of old
by slavery beneath the yoke of sin,
may be set free by the newness
of the long-awaited Nativity
of your Only Begotten Son.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.