In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 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 must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
“I have to see it to believe it.” How often have I said (or thought) these words! And usually because I’m afraid—afraid I’ll look foolish, afraid I’ll be disappointed, or even afraid what it will mean if my belief or wish comes true. All too often I allow my fears to guide me away from seeing and acting with belief, trust, and hope.
In his guidelines for the discernment of spirits, St. Ignatius teaches us that fear does not generally come from God. When we sense that we are afraid, we need to go to that fear in ourselves, try to find where it is coming from, and then refuse to act or make a decision out of that fear. Instead, we should always strive to act in a way that draws us deeper into faith, hope, and love.
In today’s Gospel, Zechariah chooses to let his fear guide him. Even though the angel Gabriel appears before him and offers him the very thing for which he and Elizabeth have been praying and more, Zechariah refuses to believe. Rather than accept with faith the “joy and gladness” that the angel foretells, Zechariah insists that he has to see it in order to believe it.
Sometimes, maybe we have to believe in order to see. Maybe we need to let go of our fears that usually lead only to despair and suffering, and choose to see with the eyes of faith.
Do you believe that God is at work in you and in your life? How can you let go of your fears so that you may see and respond with faith to how God is already working in you and in the world around you?—Thomas Bambrick, S.J. is a Jesuit scholastic in First Studies, studying philosophy at Fordham University, New York.
O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples:
rulers stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid!—The Jesuit Prayer Team Please share the Good Word with your friends!