Benny Nalkara, CMI
The Just Man (hodikaios) has become almost like a synonym for St Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. The same virtue is attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (Mt 27:19; Lk 23:47). “Because Joseph, her husband was a just man” (Mt 1:19)! That’s the unique and remarkable statement about the personality of Joseph written in the bible. The close reading of the gospels makes it clear that we have a vivid picture of his acts of justice in life towards God and the fellow human beings. Indeed, the justice of Joseph is marked by the distinctiveness he expressed in the execution of it.
Justice is often understood as decency or fairness. The ancient philosophers like Plato have discussed the notion of justice in detail. Plato took a whole book to ask, “What is Justice?” and to conclude that he didn’t know!” Aquinas defines justice as “a habit whereby a man renders each one his due by a constant and a perpetual will.” The OT understanding of justice or righteousness was not very much different from this view of philosophy, namely “giving each one his own due.” The Hebrew word “zedek” is used for ‘righteousness’ and it being a covenantal term, always had a moral or legal sense. The “tit for tat” practices in the OT period was often understood or justified on the basis of this fairness or giving one’s own due nature of justice. In general, the just man in the bible is “the person who does what he should- as an individual, a member of the society and as a child of God.”
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is a workbook of Justice for the followers of Christ. We find the radicalization of the existing law-based justice in this teaching of Jesus. When Jesus said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20), and exhorted to have a generosity that goes beyond the prescribed legal way in mutual relationships, He was pointing towards the love-based justice. Again when Jesus forgave the woman who was caught in adultery without pronouncing any judgment on her, was giving a practicum of what He taught. In fact we find the foreshadowing of this justice taught and lived by Jesus in the life of His foster father Joseph.
The Josephine justice is distinct from the traditional decency or fairness understanding of justice. The Josephine justice is not a law-based justice or righteousness but rather a love-based one. It’s going beyond the parameters of law and fairness. The Josephine justice always places the other as the focus of justice than the self. What good others can obtain is the concern here rather than what gain I can have.
The Josephine justice is described by two statements in the gospel. The first one is “being a just man and unwilling to put her into shame, resolved to divorce her quietly” (Mt 1:19). It is a justice done looking into the inner feelings and struggles of the other. It is a justice done to the other by not only looking into the past and present of a person, but also into the future. It is an act of justice free of any judgmental action. It is marked by the kindness and mercy that respects the fame and name of others. His decision to safeguard the name of Mary, even though he had all the right to act according to the Mosaic Law, made him a revolutionary lover before God and human beings. His justice exceeds the just giving style of righteousness. This new and revolutionary justice is blended with love and compassion.
The second statement in the gospel,“when Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife (Mt 1:24) is a testimony of Joseph’s faith in God that animated him to be righteous in his dealings with others without any calculations. The Josephine justice is not involved in any calculations that aim at personal glorification or any kind of self- justification. It is concerned with God’s will and faithful allegiance to it. That’s why we find the realization of the prophetic words in the life of Joseph: “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
The Josephine justice is a model and source of inspiration to each and every faithful. Its emphasis on love than law and focus on mercy is a beacon light to a believer. Joseph, the just is a challenge for us in our Christian life in the world. Being better than others in righteousness is not going to help us. Justice beyond just giving which demands a blending of justice with compassionate love should be our way of being and becoming in this pursuit.