In the mornings I’ve been reading very carefully the Christmas accounts in the gospel of Luke. One thing that really had me puzzled was the difference in angelic reactions to Zechariah and Mary. I mean, it was Gabriel who delivered the message in both cases.
In case you’re not aware, Zech was the father of John the Baptist. While offering prayers, most likely prayers on behalf of the people (not a personal prayer for a son, since he was a priest), an angel appeared to him. Like all people who see, or would see an angel today, he freaked out.
But good news soon came to him that he and his barren elderly wife would bear a son. So he asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” The angels response is basically, “You let God figure that out. Just go on home and get on with your marital privileges.” But since he didn’t believe at first, God shut his mouth until the child was born. No talking for 9 months. Wow. Can you imagine that?
Well, Mary asks a question that seems very similar to her, and the same, unsolicited angel: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel obliges her with a simple answer (although it really doesn’t make any logical sense-‘power of the Most High will overshadow you’) and reminds her that “nothing is impossible with God.”
Is this a double standard? Do young lasses get a pass while old priests don’t? Does God expect more out of old priest than young ladies regarding faith? Is this angelic affirmative action?
After looking at the passage in length, and looking up a commentary, which was largely unhelpful (that’s why its good for pastors to have 2-3 per bible book), I will, as George Mitchell did yesterday, report my findings. While the verbiage of the two questions in question look very similar, I think perhaps the heart behind the questions might have looked very different.
With only written words, we are not privy to tone, which I’m learning in marriage, makes a HUGE difference in communication. I don’t know what Zech sounded like when he questioned the angel’s good news.
Ultimately though, I think that what we have is the difference between doubt and a simple question of ‘how’ or “Am I hearing you correctly?” Zech could have been more of a “Yeah, sure, whatever” or “How am I supposed to believe that?” versus Mary’s “How will that happen-I’m still a virgin and I think I should stay one until I’m officially married.”
But another explanation can be found if we simply look at the scenario. An angel brings great news, good news not only to YOU, but to your nation, and to the world. You can imagine the joy in which it was brought. And then the dude you’re bringing it to says, “How am I supposed to believe that?” I’d have shut that joker up for a lot longer than 9 months!
Regardless, there was more a difference in heart than exactly what was being expressed in words. And the issue of the heart has always been what God cares about. It is the heart which God looks at, not simply the words being expressed. The heart. “More than words,” said one early 90’s band called Extreme.
I haven’t read the OT passage lately, but I think a similar attitude of the heart comes up when we think of the difference in Cain’s and Abel’s offerings.ge