December 19, 2011 - Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Today's Readings

Zechariah is really severely punished. He just asked one question: “How am I to know this?” Where did he get this question? He got it from Abraham. It is the exact question that Abraham asked when God told him that he and Sarah would have a son even though they were very old. So when Zechariah is told the same thing, he follows the example of Abraham, but instead of being given a sign like Abraham received, he is given a different sort of sign: he is punished by having his ability to speak removed.

So what is the problem? The problem is that in 2000 years, there should have been some spiritual progress. What was good enough for Abraham who was the first to believe was not good enough a hundred generations later. Just as we ought to be more spiritually mature than the early Christians after 2000 years of Christianity, so Zechariah ought to be more spiritually mature than Abraham.

This is not to say that Zechariah is better than Abraham, or that we are better than the early Christians. Who is the greater artists, Da Vinci or the first caveman to paint an animal on the wall? Who is the greater scientist, Einstein or the first person to map the stars? The point is that Zechariah had the benefit of Abraham’s experience, so he should not have asked Abraham’s question.

Contrast this conversation with another conversation that Gabriel had. Mary asked a question too, but her question shows a wisdom and spiritual maturity that the old priest lacked. She simply asks, “How can this be?” She does not doubt. She simply wants to know how she is going to become pregnant and yet remain a virgin her whole life. She does not ask for proof, just a little clarification.

Of course it is not fair to compare Zechariah to Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the sinless girl who would never sin. None of us is going to look very good in comparison with Mary, but that is just the point: Mary is exactly what we ought to be; her “let it be” is exactly what we ought to say. Mary is the perfect disciple. Zechariah erred by looking back to Abraham as his example, but we will never go wrong if our example is Mary.