The Gospel according to Luke (1:57-66)
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
Reflection: This line reveals the happy conclusion to Zechariah’s initial failure to believe in what God revealed to him. Recall that nine months earlier, as Zechariah was fulfilling his priestly duty of offering sacrifice within the Holy of Holies in the Temple, he received a visit from the glorious Archangel Gabriel, who stands before God. Gabriel revealed to Zechariah the good news that his wife would conceive in her old age and that this child would be the one to prepare the people of Israel for the coming Messiah. What an incredible privilege that would have been! But Zechariah disbelieved. And as a result, the Archangel struck him mute for the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy.
The punishments of the Lord are always gifts of His grace. Zechariah was not punished out of spite, or for punitive reasons. Instead, this punishment was more like a penance. He was given the humbling penance of losing his ability to speak for nine months for a good reason. It appears as if God knew that Zechariah needed nine months to silently reflect upon what the Archangel had said. He needed nine months to ponder his wife’s miraculous pregnancy. And he needed nine months to ponder who this child would be. And those nine months produced the desired effect of a full conversion of heart.
After the child was born, it was expected that this firstborn son would be named after the father, Zechariah. But the Archangel had told Zechariah that the child was to be named John. Therefore, on the eighth day, the day of his son’s circumcision when he was presented to the Lord, Zechariah wrote on a tablet that the baby’s name was John. This was an act of faith and a sign that he had fully turned from disbelief to belief. And it was this act of faith that undid his prior doubt.
Every one of our lives will be marked by failures to believe on the deepest level of faith. For that reason, Zechariah is a model for us of how we are to deal with our failures. We deal with them by allowing the consequences of past failures to change us for the good. We learn from our mistakes and move forward with new resolutions. This is what Zechariah did, and this is what we must do if we wish to learn from his good example.
Action of the Day: Reflect, today, upon any failings you have had that has had painful consequences in your life. As you ponder that failing, the real question is where you go from here. Do you allow that past failing, or lack of faith, to dominate and control your life? Or do you use your past failures to make new resolutions and decisions for the future so as to learn from your mistakes? It takes courage, humility, and strength to imitate the example of Zechariah. Seek to bring these virtues into your life this day.