Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at the Vibe, West, and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.
The juxtaposition of today’s passages is interesting. On the one hand, you have the Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 22:20-24), which had defined morality for the Israelite nation for centuries, saying that sex outside of marriage is punishable by death. Twice in the passage, it says, “Remove such evil from Israel!” This was a hard rule: adultery was not to be tolerated.
In the other passage (Matthew 1:18-20), we see Joseph faced with this very situation–and breaking the rule. His love for Mary transcended strict adherence to the law, and he loved so much that he refused to punish evil. But Joseph is called a righteous man–not in spite of his deviance, but because of it.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, summed up his approach to Christianity in three simple rules:
- Do no harm
- Do all the good you can
- Stay in love with God
I’m a latecomer to the Methodist church–I joined when I was 24–so I came in with a fresh set of eyes. What really caught my interest was the order on the first two rules. I’m assuming these rules are in descending order, so if the first rule runs contrary to the second rule, you should stick with the first. The placement of the first rule above the second shows that it is possible to do good that is also harmful. And when this happens, you should always choose to turn away from harm, even if it also means turning away from good that is intrinsically tied to it.
That’s not to say that doing good always feels good or that the truth never hurts. There will be times when doing good goes against an evil establishment and causes harm to it. But there are also plenty of times when truth and goodness are used as a weapon to separate yourself from others. If goodness or righteousness are ever used to belittle someone else, this represents a failure in the Christian mission.
When this happens, we usually know what we’re doing–we just hide it beneath layers of piety. But taking a page from Joseph’s story, there are times when love should trump punishment, and there are times when showing mercy even in the face of hard commandments is the righteous thing to do. Joseph’s mercy is the beginning of Jesus’s story, so our religion is rooted in mercy. Always remember that when you’re tempted to justify your own retribution with religious doctrine. That’s never been what we’re about.
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.