Thankfully, the story also describes a way forward from Joseph’s dilemma: the baby in Mary’s womb, Jesus. In Jesus, we see the depth of God’s compassion for all who suffer. Jesus never ignored the painful consequences evil can create. Indeed, he allowed himself to experience the absolute worst of humanity. As an adult, Jesus was thrown out of his home village and religious community. According to the gospels, he endured one of the most unjust trials ever recorded. Jesus was tortured, beaten, and sentenced to a cruel death. When we suffer injustice, we are not experiencing something alien to Jesus, and therefore, alien to God.
But there is another side to Jesus’ suffering that is equally important: Jesus also demonstrates profound compassion for people have made terrible mistakes. Jesus never mis-stepped or said a single cruel word, but he allowed himself to experience the full shame and isolation of being cast out of society. Crucifixion was the ultimate censure, being publicly put to death outside of the walls of the city. Yet even in this moment, Jesus demonstrated compassion for people who had harmed him. While on the cross, he forgave those who put him there. Jesus offered forgiveness to the man dying on the next cross to his own, who by his own admission deserved his fate. In contrast to aspects of cancel culture, Jesus’ actions at that moment of extreme injustice tell us that human redemption is always possible. Jesus created a compassionate way forward from guilt and shame. Whatever our situation, we can find life-giving grace and healing in Christ.
Compassion isn’t easy. It cost Jesus dearly, and at times it will cost us, too. Courageous compassion creates much needed opportunities to heal, learn, and grow. When we suffer and when we err, cruelty and failure do not get the last word. As it says in the last few pages of the Bible, Jesus is making all things new. Cancel culture ends conversations and damages relationships, but a better balance between the righteous demands of justice and the need for redemptive grace remains possible.