During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.
It so happened that as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense. The congregation was gathered and praying outside the Temple at the hour of the incense offering. Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralyzed in fear.
But the angel reassured him, "Don't fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You're going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He'll achieve great stature with God.
"He'll drink neither wine nor beer. He'll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother's womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God's arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he'll get the people ready for God."
Zachariah said to the angel, "Do you expect me to believe this? I'm an old man and my wife is an old woman."
But the angel said, "I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won't believe me, you'll be unable to say a word until the day of your son's birth. Every word I've spoken to you will come true on time—God's time."
Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn't speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.
When the course of his priestly assignment was completed, he went back home. It wasn't long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. "So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!" she said.
I love this story. It’s one of those that makes me smile every time I read it. Mostly because it puts on such prominent display the arrogance of us men, especially those of us male clergy who think we know everything.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes already, some of the women reading this have probably whispered, “Amen,” to themselves. But, hear me out before just ignoring this.
For a long time it’s been a “Man’s world.” We men have created systems to insure that we hold on to power and control in most avenues of life. These days, we are seeing some of that change. It’s not changing fast enough in many ways. But, it took a long time to build the system to our liking and it’s going to take a long time to dismantle and rebuild the system as we are going.
In my area of expertise, religion, men have dominated the leadership of the Christian religion for nearly two thousand years. In the Jewish faith, it has been even longer.
For those of us who are pastors, Zachariah is the embodiment of us.
Here he is faithfully serving the Lord in the Temple. It’s his turn to burn incense at the altar. Which is right in front of the Holy of Holies where God’s presence was believed to be. This was a holy moment for Zachariah.
What happens? An angel appears and speaks to him. He’s dumbstruck. The angel’s first response is the usual, “Do not be afraid!” The angel gives Zachariah his message and thankfully Zachariah recovers enough to explain what a foolish statement the angel just made to the angel.
What could go wrong?
Zachariah was learned, wise, and probably considered by many to be holy. Yet, when he encounters an angel his response is to tell the angel the reality of this situation…
Yep. He “umm…actually’ed” an angel.
The angel didn’t take that too well. What was Zachariah’s punishment?
As a pastor I think silence might be the hardest thing that I would have to experience. I write and publish my thoughts every day. Every Sunday I get to communicate my thoughts to people about God and life. Many days folks seek me out and ask for my input on a variety of things. I have to say, being a pastor is often really good for the ego (sometimes it’s not too, but hey, we’re talking about the good stuff today)!
Many of my colleagues who are women haven’t had the same experience as me. They have had to fight tooth and nail to get ordained and enter the pastorate. When people find out that they want to be a pastor they get, “But you’re a girl.” Many of us male pastors have been the ones to try and make sure that they can’t follow their callings. We think we know what the Bible has to say about this issue and as a result we have done our best to keep the system in place that keeps women in silence.
As I have come to the conclusion that women can and should be pastors, I’ve had to learn that there are times when I need to not talk. There are times when I need to listen, hear, and support my colleagues who are women.
Zachariah is all of us men. He thought he had it figured out. But, he didn’t. He didn’t have the whole picture. So, he got silenced.
Men, let’s be better. Let’s try to put the “Umm, actually…” in our back pocket or maybe even throw it away. Perhaps, we could learn from the story of Zachariah that a little humility goes a long way. Zachariah was a little too much like the “know-it-all” from Polar Express.
Too many of us guys are the “know-it-all” from Polar Express too. A little humility as we learn from others will go a long, long, way.
I’m trying to learn to listen more. I’m trying to recognize the reality that I don’t know everything and that I need to continue growing in humility.
What’s better, to choose a little silence or to be silenced. I will choose the former over the latter.