"Et ingressus angelus ad eam dixit : Ave gratia plena : Dominus tecum : benedicta tu in mulieribus. Quæ cum audisset, turbata est in sermone ejus, et cogitabat qualis esset ista salutatio."
So says the Gospel of St. Luke. The text was taken from its first Chapter after the account of Zachary's encounter of the same Archangel Gabriel. The contrast of the two encounters is evident: the unbelief of the priest of Aaron to the belief of the Virgin, the young woman in the prophecy of Isaiah to King Hezekiah in his stubborness. We could ask what could possibly be in the mind of the author when he recounts these events? That the disbelief of Zachary has been arrested by the consent of the woman to and through whom salvation comes; that movement from the downhill of one's disobedience is uplifted by the simple words of the seemingly naive and ignorant country girl: "And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word." This striking difference is held by one denominator - the common will of God - He pushes the hour actively into the history of man in that historical moment of His salvific plan: the rise of the precursor of the Gospel to give voice to that prophetic signal of Isaiah (The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord has spoken. The voice of one, saying: Cry. Isaiah 40: 3-6) and the Word: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth" (John 1: 14). The noticeable dissonance of the two texts finds its synthesis in the acknowledgment of the Baptist as he on the riverbed of the Jordan in Bethania pointed his finger to the One who came for baptism saying: "Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said: After me there comes a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. (John 1: 29-31)"
What can we make of this Zachary in the temple? Of his situation and person, what can we gleam from him?
My thoughts do not pretend of a biblical scholar's, and I am simply sharing my own simple meditation from the point of a faithful. The biblical texts come to us not as a subordinate under the whim of anyone who dissects it nor an imposing master that enslaves and coerces us at the cost and expense of our freedom. The scriptures arrives as a gift and offering of God to share in His life - His triuned life. Through the Holy Writ, we are given a window into the eternal life of the three persons in one.
The person of Zachary finds its different expressions and forms in the movement of man in his endless search of explanation to the reality of his history. And, not just to explicate reality but toward the vestibule of understanding - the understanding of what comes to us from without; the understanding of what imposes upon us. Man is circumscribed by his own limitations, in his own limited capacities. Therefore, it is for this reason, of man's search of comprehension of things that surround him, that Kant explains that the subject is not in himself passive before the thing-in-itself but actively constructs in his mind the elements to explain the things before him, we find that Zachary could not simply connect and assimilate the outside and revealing reality of God and what was before him with the algorithm of reality he has simply come to accept and subjectively constructed: "And Zachary said to the angel: Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. (Luke 1:18)"
Our knowing of things comes in direct contact to a thing not from our own. The mind that seeks rational explanation is in itself good, our constant and ceaseless restlessness to grasp the highest and the most elusive of things square with the sublime nobility of our being created by God and bearing His own imprint. This unremitting aspirant to the truth seeks to know that who is truth Himself, the logos in His countenance: "And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness, and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moves upon the earth. (Genesis 1: 26-27)".
Where did Zachary fail?
There is always this danger of man to surround himself with what he considers the given. The natural rhythm of life radically imposes in Zachary the limits of his view of reality. With this kind of supposition is dogmatically asserted and taken to the extreme, man encloses himself, walls himself up, which ends up limiting his horizon and his aspirations. He delimits himself to the exclusion of anything that might contradict his paradigm. Zachary which in his heart does not open himself up to that transcendent activity of the intervenor of his reality risks a fall of his own. He is a priest the dispenser and mediator of man to God, who should have better known this mystery, but could not accept that his God could work even within his own world. This was his sin, and this will be ours too.
This an error of our time, which Christians can easily be swayed. This positivism of our culture that accepts only the scientific method of testing and experimentation as reality and given, then we, too, are on the slippery slope of muteness. When we become dumb, we are in a state of division with our relations and with our surroundings. We are in a failure to be known, heard, and understood. Like the Tower of Babel, this points to the effects of personal sin or the sins of history.
To be saved, we have to let God puncture this enclosure, this hardening of our minds and our hearts to let this revelation penetrate our understanding. In the process of subordinating ourselves (shift of our common view at sometimes a great loss and pain of those things we accrue to enhance our ego) to the will of God, we surrender to Him those things that inhibit us from "going into the House of the Lord (Psalm 121)", to the joy of meeting with the Lord.
The all-holy Virgin.
Mary was kneeling when the angel visited her; she in prayer was humble before the Lord. Mary lives near the boundary of the geographical area which Israel has considered the gift of their election. She lives under the threat of the influence of the gentiles and unbelievers - Romans, Greeks, and Persians. The odds were not on her side. The circumstances and the repercussions of her Yes would have run her into the Mosaic Law, whose rigid interpretation of the local Rabbi, could get her stoned to death. While Zachary lived within the shadow of the temple, closer to the epicenter of the Jewish life, the blessed Virgin only knew too well the life of rabbinic faith in the inconsequent Nazareth; while the office of the priesthood of Zachary symbolized in its liturgical act the prayer of the nation of Israel, Mary was in her tiny room down on her knees for her personal devotion. Zachary had all the privileges attached to his being a priest, father, and man, Mary was to the eyes of all a woman, weak, and insignificant.
In the life of faith, salvation is seen in the eyes of the anawim, the poor of hearts, which was concretized in the remnants of Israel during the time of the Babylonian captivity of Israel. These were stripped of their political rights under the guardian of a vicar of the king of Chaldea. To these remnants, the vision of recapturing Jerusalem and their lands - thus salvation and redemption from sin in the new dispensation - was most clear and strong. Thus, the expectation of the messiah is harbored in the hearts of those who are awake - in the constant conversation day and night of the One who comes without news, in those who kept their lamps burning as they await their bridegroom. At the time of Jesus' coming, all Israel was on expectation of the rise of the messiah, but only the rarest of the few had heard it clearly. Whereas the enclosure of Zechariah of his own world isolates him of this expectation, Mary in her heart had heard it audibly. Thus, when the angel spoke to her, she knew in her heart that it has come - the way to Calvary has begun in her little village, the sign of contradiction is clearly initiated in her own space, time, and flesh.
The texts of the Annunciation finds its most credible witness and authentic interpretation in the life of the saints, in whose lives God is borne again and again, in whose lives incarnated the word addressed by the angel. The constant danger of a society that functions only by its own knowing, doing, and acting is undoubtedly on the road to its own demise and perdition. Only in the constant listening to the word of God, thus, man is able to reorient its path to the way to God, to a new of way of seeing and knowing things not from our hands but from the might hand of the Lord.