That day is crystal clear to me. She had sent word about a week ahead of time that she would soon be on her way, and I started to get excited. Sure, I wanted some answers about why she had left, but more than anything, I just wanted my wife back. It was a Friday that she came home. I remember because I had made a mental list of things that had to be done before sundown because sundown signaled the start of the Sabbath. I was going over the list in my mind as I approached my father’s house, and there she was. She was sitting on the gate of the house and I stopped in my tracks. I saw her before she saw me, so I just stood there for a moment.
I felt my chin start to shake and the tears form in my eyes. My tool belt slipped from my hands and fell to the ground and then she looked up and saw me. In that split second, I wondered what her reaction would be. Did she leave because of me? Did she not want me any more? But all of my doubts were soon gone, because when she saw me she grinned from ear to ear. We walked toward each other and then we embraced. I know, I know – it’s too far physically, but in that moment, I don’t think either one of us cared. And suddenly I knew that everything was going to be okay. I had so many questions to ask her, and I had so many things to tell her. I wanted to tell her how much I had missed her and how much I did love her. I wanted her to know that I never wanted her to leave again and I would always be there for her. I wanted to hold her and tell her that she could confide and trust in me. But before I could say any of those things, she pulled away from me.
That’s when I noticed it. She was looking down at the ground and the sun was at just the right angle for me to see the brightness in her face. She looked beautiful and yet somehow different. It wasn’t the girlish kind of beauty that I was first attracted to but a more mature – an older beauty that I now saw. I was 7 years older than she was and suddenly I felt like a child.
She said to me, “Joseph, I want to tell you the reason that I have been away. It is a wonderful reason, but it may be difficult for you to hear.” I wasn’t worried about what she would say. Not right then. So I assured her that she could tell me anything and that the important thing was that we were together again. And then she said 2 words that literally took my breath away: “I’m pregnant.”
I can’t describe what it felt like. My head felt dizzy. All the breath went out of me. I couldn’t process what she had just told me. She was pregnant? How could she be pregnant? Who was this person? This is not the Mary I thought I knew. How could she have been unfaithful to me? Then it all started to make sense – her father’s shame, her distancing herself from the situation, the lack of news. I felt like such a fool. And all the while she had the nerve to stand there smiling like this was a good thing.
Did she not understand what was happening? She was an adulteress! She had gone behind my back and ruined herself with another man. She had ruined everything – our life together, our future, her reputation, my reputation, my family’s reputation – what would our neighbors say? What would my father say? And still she smiled. I dropped her hands and started to back away. I said, “You’re what? How… how could you?” She wasn’t smiling any more. She started after me and said that if I would only give her a chance to explain – but I would hear none of that. I didn’t want to see her. I didn’t want to know her. These last few months had been nothing but a lie. All I wanted to do was to get as far away as possible from the situation, and so I did. I ran. I ran until my legs started to hurt and my stomach got a pain in the side. And after I stopped running, I started to cry. I felt angry – who was she to think that she could make a fool out of me? I felt betrayed – who was this other man who could not control himself? But most of all, I felt hurt. And ashamed.
I stayed out very late that night. When I finally came home my father was waiting for me. I thought about trying to hold it in, but I told him everything. He responded just like I knew he would. Father always raised us to respect the law. The law was what separated us from the other nations. The law is the means by which God blesses and curses. And on this point, the law was very clear – I had to divorce Mary. It was not even an option – in fact, most Jewish communities demanded a divorce in the case of adultery. To not divorce her would be illegal, not to mention compromising my own personal righteousness. I mean, think about it – if I married Mary, then it is as if I condone her actions. Not only that, but I will be branded as unclean for the rest of my life. She’s already going to carry that reputation around – why should I go down with her? It’s not my fault she got pregnant.
So, as father said, I basically had 2 options. I could either seek a public divorce or a private divorce. If I went public then Mary would be disgraced before the whole community, and technically, she could be stoned even though nobody really did that any more. And part of me really wanted that. Was that really so wrong after what she had done to me? Part of me wanted to see her have to explain her conduct in front of everyone. I wanted people to come up to me and shake my hand and congratulate me on my own purity.
But in the end I decided that the best thing to do was to divorce her quietly. I don’t know why I decided to do it; maybe it was because it would give Mary a chance in life if she moved out of Nazareth, maybe it was for the baby. Probably it was mostly because even though she had hurt me so badly I still didn’t want her to be mad at me. But whatever the reason, this option would allow me to maintain my personal righteousness and save Mary from so much humiliation.
Now I know what you’re thinking: is your own personal righteousness really that important? Maybe it should not be, but I’m just asking you to try and understand my culture for a minute. We live our whole lives based on honor and shame. If I didn’t have my honor, my own personal integrity, then I wouldn’t be able to shop in public. Some merchants wouldn’t sell their goods to me. Most people would refuse to buy the stuff that I make. Being shamed would affect every area of my life.
It just wasn’t worth it…