Circumstantial evidence is a term one doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand. We’ve all seen enough crime dramas on television to know that people can be convicted of a crime even if there is no direct evidence that proves their guilt, where there is enough indirect evidence to allow a tried of fact to infer that the person must be guilty.
I was thinking about this in connection with Joseph after Gabriel’s visit to Mary. What must Joseph felt when the rumors of Mary’s pregnancy started flying about? What must he have thought, knowing he was not responsible for the pregnancy? What would anyone think if their spouse or fiance, with whom they had had no sexual relations turned up pregnant? And how would they react to hearing something like, “I didn’t cheat on you, honey; the Holy Spirit did this.” Yeah, sure, that’s believable. Hurt. Rage. Embarrassment. All would have been completely understandable reactions to this new.
But, among its other lessons, the story of Jesus’ conception tells us that things are not always as they appear. All the evidence may point to a conclusion, and that conclusion can still be wrong.
As I was reflecting on this, I thought that part of what Joseph teaches us is the importance of being able to reach underneath the raw emotions that circumstantial evidence of this kind generates, to find the deeper wisdom that knows that truth. Joseph was able to do that. To not be blinded by rage, hurt, disappointment and sadness, but to be able to hear the voice that revealed the truth to him. That’s an important lesson to learn.