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The Holy Shut Up

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Click here to read Matthew 2 on BibleGateway.com

garbagebasketMan is competitive by nature. You doubt? Next time you see a bunch of guys sitting around in the office, throw a piece of crumpled up paper in between two of them and see what happens. Within 4.2 seconds, they will have located a garbage can a suitable distance away, taking into consideration the aerodynamic properties of the paper and the relative likelihood of boss discovery, and will begin some sort of free-throw competition, not dissimilar to the pig-throwing competitions of yesteryear. They will do no-look shots, bank shots, possibly even setting up obstacles to challenge themselves. And they will high-five, chest bump, and yell barely intelligible phrases to each other. All will be well with the world.


Why? Why do we challenge each other? Why are board games popular? Why do we spend billions of dollars on athletic competitions every year?  In a word, rightness. We love to be right. More importantly, we love to be more-right than the Other Guy. We don’t really care how fast we run, as long we run faster than Dave. We don’t care how much money we make, as long as it’s more than Wendell. We don’t even really care how much we sin, as long as we’re more righteous than Them.

Oh, what a temptation Being Right is. There may be no greater competition in the world. We love to be more righteous than the other people around us. Maybe it’s because deep down we think that somehow God grades on a curve, and if we’re just more righteous than a few others, we’ll make the cut. Maybe it’s just that ole pride, the bedrock of so many of our troubles.

And it’s not enough to be right, everyone else has to know how right we are. They have to know that we were tempted and held firm; that we had a chance to steal and restrained ourselves; that the last doughnut called us with its sweet glazed siren song, and we managed to resist. We need people to praise us for our strength and holiness almost as much as we need them to overlook our weaknesses. And if we have to drop hints here and there about our righteousness to get people to notice, then we devise ways to drop hints without making it too obvious that we are hint dropping. They need to notice without them noticing that we are noticing that they noticed.


Yet the Bible makes clear that sometimes the most righteous thing we can do is just shut our Doritos hatch. Jesus says that when we give to charity, even our left hand shouldn’t know what our right hand is doing. We should be able to give a truckload of cash without even needing others to know we gave a nickle.

Look at Joseph in today’s reading. The Bible says he was “faithful to the law.” He was a righteous man, no doubt about it. And then his young fiance comes to him and says “Oh, by the way, I’m pregnant. But don’t worry, it’s from God.” Can you imagine the temptation for him? He could have locked her in the loony bin, or at least made sure everyone knew what a hussy she was, and made sure that everyone knew how righteous he was. He wasn’t the one who fell into temptation; he wasn’t the one who should have to suffer the ruined reputation.

But even before he was visited by an angel, Joseph had already decided to divorce her quietly. Quietly. He did not mock her, did not stand up for his rights, did not even mention it to the neighbors. No disgrace, no public ridicule, no self-righteousness. His mercy won out over his need to be Right.

And he got to spend more time with Jesus than any other man.

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