We are given a beautiful lesson in the difference between justice and legality in today's Gospel. The law would have allowed Joseph several options regarding the surprising announcement of Mary's pregnancy. Since they were betrothed and legally bound, Joseph could have publicly denounced Mary and correctly stated that the child was not his. Consequences could have ranged all the way up to stoning, since it would have been considered adultery. Joseph, however, did not want to go that public route. After deciding to "divorce her quietly", he was visited by an angel who revealed that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit". As a result of this, Joseph did what was just, rather than legally permissible. He took Mary as his wife and raised Jesus as his own son.
I was wondering how many times I have used the law to try and justify my actions, even when true justice clearly would guide me to another decision? In fact, I believe this may be one of the worst failings of modern times: law has trumped justice, instead of the other way around. It is normal to hear people, whether attorneys, politician or even Church officials, speak of "just following the law" in defending their decisions or actions. Even among friends and neighbors, conversations are more likely to revolve around what is permissible by law, rather than what is right and just.
Somehow we have to change our starting point. rather than beginning with what human laws permit, mandate or forbid, we should realize that God's law is the foundation and starting point. If we, as individuals who have to make decisions, begin by asking the question "What is the just thing to do" or "Which is the most just decision", we will start to change things, one person at a time. True, we are all called to follow the law of the land, but we are also called to resist or try to change unjust laws. Perhaps if we accustom ourselves to looking for justice in our personal dealings with others, we might find the strength and wisdom to examine public laws to make them more about justice and less about revenge.