Friday, October 07, 2005

How shall I know this? How can this be?

A few weeks ago I was reading through the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke for perhaps the zillionth time in my life (Zillionth is the ordinal number precisely between gabillionth and kajillionth). It is amazing how I can read the same passage of scripture a zillion times (a zillion is the cardinal number precisely between gabillion and kajillion) and still see new things. It is so easy to skim right over well-known passages. In this instance I was attempting to look at Luke from the fresh eyes of a new "seeker" to Christianity. I know, not a reformed term - fellow reformed folk please forgive my theologically incorrect terminology. I was starting Luke again due to a novel I had recently read in which a non-Christian character reads Luke and evaluates the validity, historicity, and believability of the Gospel.

In this particular instance what struck me as I read was the similarities of the angelic encounters with Zechariah and Mary, and the contrast of the outcomes.

Turn with me to The Gospel According to Luke, the first chapter (ESV):

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

11And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of
the altar of incense. 12And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear
fell upon him. 13But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for
your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you
shall call his name John. 14And you will have joy and gladness, and many will
rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not
drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even
from his mother's womb. 16And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the
Lord their God, 17and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the
wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."

18And Zechariah said to the angel,
"How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced
in years." 19And the angel answered him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the
presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good
news. 20And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day
that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which
will be fulfilled in their time."
My outline of the first passage:
I. Angel appears to Zechariah.
II. Zechariah troubled.
III. Angel says do not be afraid.
IV. Angel foretells birth of Zechariah's son
V. Angel foretells greatness of his son
VI. Zechariah brings up physical impossibility: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man."
VII. Angel rebukes him: "Behold , you will be silent and unable to speak."

Birth of Jesus Foretold

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent
from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man
whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.
28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"
29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of
greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will
be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne
of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of
his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

35And the angel answered her, "The Holy
Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God.
My outline of the second passage:
I. Angel appears to Mary.
II. Mary troubled.
III. Angel says "Do not be afraid."
IV. Angel foretells birth of Mary's son
V. Angel foretells greatness of her son
VI. Mary brings up physical impossibility: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
VII. Angel answers: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you. . ."

The two angelic encounters are strikingly similar, to the point of identical wording in many instances. Even the responses that Zechariah and Mary give are quite similar. Both inquire as to the logistics of the prophecy given them, based on their seemingly physical inabilities to beget children. So why did the angels respond to them so differently? The wording of their queries to the angel do not appear to me to be different in tone. Perhaps someone schooled in New Testament Greek could shed some more light on the wording of their challenges to the angels.

I think the difference in the angelic responses were the result of one or both of the following: the outward attitude or the inner attitude of Zechariah and Mary. Original, no? It made me really stop and think, though, because I know I am so guilty of saying the "right" things while my heart and often my attitude portray my true self. I have been challenged by my parents a zillion times when I have asked something out of cynicism or disrespect (whether outwardly portrayed or not), and I have responded with "but I was just asking about. . . " when the real problem was my heart, not my words.

May I seek the attitude of Mary, not merely her words.

Soli Deo Gloria


Mr. Baggins said...

For a redemptive-historical parallel to this, see Genesis 17:1-14. All the elements are there: annunciation, disbelief, vision, and grace. "Redemptive-historical" refers to typology, btw.

Susan said...

How interesting. I had never considered that parallel. Thanks.