Zechariah

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.

Once when he was serving as priest
in his division’s turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn the hearts of fathers toward children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Then Zechariah said to the angel,
“How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
And the angel said to him in reply,
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.
I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
But now you will be speechless and unable to talk
until the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words,
which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah
and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary.
But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them,
and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.
He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home.

After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived,
and she went into seclusion for five months, saying,
“So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit
to take away my disgrace before others.”
(Luke 1:5-25)

Scripture Study

1:5 In the days of Herod, King of Judea: Luke relates the story of salvation history to events in contemporary world history. Here and in Lk 3:1–2 he connects his narrative with events in Palestinian history; in Lk 2:1–2 and Lk 3:1 he casts the Jesus story in the light of events of Roman history. Herod the Great, the son of the Idumean Antipater, was declared “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate in 40 b.c., but became the undisputed ruler of Palestine only in 37 b.c. He continued as king until his death in 4 b.c. Priestly division of Abijah: a reference to the eighth of the twenty-four divisions of priests who, for a week at a time, twice a year, served in the Jerusalem temple.

1:7 They had no child: though childlessness was looked upon in contemporaneous Judaism as a curse or punishment for sin, it is intended here to present Elizabeth in a situation similar to that of some of the great mothers of important Old Testament figures: Sarah (Gn 15:3; 16:1); Rebekah (Gn 25:21); Rachel (Gn 29:31; 30:1); the mother of Samson and wife of Manoah (Jgs 13:2–3); Hannah (1 Sm 1:2).

1:13 Do not be afraid: a stereotyped Old Testament phrase spoken to reassure the recipient of a heavenly vision (Gn 15:1; Jos 1:9; Dn 10:12, 19 and elsewhere in Lk 1:30; 2:10). You shall name him John: the name means “Yahweh has shown favor,” an indication of John’s role in salvation history.

1:15 He will drink neither wine nor strong drink: like Samson (Jgs 13:4–5) and Samuel (1 Sm 1:11 LXX and 4QSama), John is to be consecrated by Nazirite vow and set apart for the Lord’s service.

1:17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah: John is to be the messenger sent before Yahweh, as described in Mal 3:1–2. He is cast, moreover, in the role of the Old Testament fiery reformer, the prophet Elijah, who according to Mal 3:6 (Mal 3:24) is sent before “the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”

1:19 I am Gabriel: “the angel of the Lord” is identified as Gabriel, the angel who in Dn 9:20–25 announces the seventy weeks of years and the coming of an anointed one, a prince. By alluding to Old Testament themes in Lk 1:17, 19 such as the coming of the day of the Lord and the dawning of the messianic era, Luke is presenting his interpretation of the significance of the births of John and Jesus.

1:20 You will be speechless and unable to talk: Zechariah’s becoming mute is the sign given in response to his question in v 18. When Mary asks a similar question in Lk 1:34, unlike Zechariah who was punished for his doubt, she, in spite of her doubt, is praised and reassured (Lk 1:35–37). 

Scripture Reflection

Friends, in today’s Gospel, Luke tells us about John the Baptist’s parents. We see with utter clarity that John is a priestly figure. Zechariah, his father, is a Temple priest and Elizabeth, his mother, is a descendant of Aaron, the very first priest.

Now flash forward thirty years and see John emerging in the desert. The first question is, “Why is this son of a priest not working in the Temple?” And the second is, “Why are the people going out from Jerusalem to commune with him?” The answer to the first is that he is engaging in a prophetic critique of a Temple that has gone bad. And the answer to the second is that he is performing the acts of a purified Temple priest out in the desert. His baptism was a ritual cleansing and a spur to repent, precisely what a pious Jew would have sought in the Temple.

And the picture becomes complete when Jesus arrives to be baptized and John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This is explicitly Temple talk. He is saying that the one who is to be sacrificed has arrived. He is the fulfillment of priesthood, Temple, and sacrifice. The priestly figure has done his work, and now he fades away.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.