13But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!”
30“Don’t be frightened, Mary,”
18Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
34Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.”
19Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20And now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you won’t be able to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time.”
35The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”
23He stayed at the Temple until his term of service was over, and then he returned home.
38Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” And then the angel left.
Two very different people, two very different scenarios, two different responses to very similar proclamations. I am amazed and confused and intrigued by the responses of Zechariah and Mary to the Angel Gabriel. I am also amazed at the different ways he treats the two.
First, the similarities: Both Zechariah and Mary are performing their normal duites when the most powerful and honored angel appears to them. When I think of the power of angels, I think this would be a terrifying encounter. In fact, Gabriel’s first response is the same to both of them: “Don’t be afraid.” Then, he tells them that they are going to have a child that will play a mighty role in Earth’s history. Both Mary and Zechariah show some confusion and express and obstacle to the Gabriel’s prophecy — Zechariah and his wife are old, Mary is a virgin.
Now, the dissimilarities: Zechariah and his wife are old, Mary is a young, unmarried virgin. Gabriel chastises Zechariah for not believing, but he basically ignores Mary’s disbelief and answers her question. Zechariah is cursed with silence, Mary bursts into song. The angel comes to Zechariah, as the head of the household and patriarch or the family. But since no one can play that role for Mary, he comes directly to her and treats her as an adult and the head of the household.
Why was Zechariah cursed for expressing a question and Mary was not? How did Zechariah handle his silence? How did he answer people’s questions? How much introspection and silent prayer did he have during this time — or did he get wallowed down in depression and pity (at least for some of the time?)
I believe that Zechariah was cursed because he was older, supposedly wiser, and was a recognized spiritual leader in Israel. After years of experience with the Lord, he should have been readily able to recognize God’s voice, through his messenger, without hesitation.
Mary, on the other hand, was young, niave’, and less expreinced in spiritual matters. She was just trying to clarify — where Zechariah was in disbelief.
I don’t believe God is offended by clarifying questions. I do however think He wants us to live up to the light given us. It is important for us to grow in our experience with Him and to learn to recognize Him when He shows up.
The second time I met Jennifer, I didn’t really recognize her. I mean I recognized her, but I wasn’t looking for her, didn’t expect her, and couldn’t remember her name. She was a little put off by that, but she forgave me and we went on in our friendship and eventually married. However, if I ran into her in some public place now (which is fun to do, BTW), and I didn’t recognize her, she would be very hurt — but worse, I’d have to ask myself why I didn’t recognize her. If I walked into the living room and didn’t recognize her, that would be really bad.
That’s what I hear Gabriel saying to Zechariah. “Where have you been? How could you not recognize God’s voice?” Zechariah should have had such an intimate relationship with God, that there would have been no hesitation in his recognition of this messenger. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned — and Zechariah should have discerned the Lord’s voice.
Mary, on the other hand, was young and growing. It took her a moment, but she got it and they moved on.
If I am living with God daily, I won’t be surprised when He speaks. I won’t be surprised when He shows up. I’ll just take it in stride, as if the cat walked into the room — ‘cept I”ll be on my face in worship!
Father God, thanks for understanding me when I fall. Thanks for being patient with me when I follow my own ways. Thanks for taking the time to teach me and to show me the way of growth. Please help me to know you very well. Teach me to trust you through the relationship we are building. Teach me to not be surprised when you show up — like last week!