The evangelist Luke, after the brief and elegant prologue (1:1-4), presents in his first two chapters the Gospel of the infancy of Jesus (chs. 1-2), which is a careful narration of the birth and infancy of John the Baptist and of the Son of God.
Within the parallels of the different scenes, the distinctive features of each character can be observed, in a sequence of episodes, where the divine and the human intermingle in a simple and admirable way.
Among the different protagonists of this story, there is Zechariah. He is not the main one, but the evangelist has wanted to portray him with well-defined features.
As usual in Luke, the first thing is to frame the event in profane history: "while Herod was king of Judea." (v. 6). Then the presentation of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth according to their office, lineage and conduct: he, a priest, of the turn of Abijah (v. 5).
We could consider him a simple priest (in gr. hiereús tis(a "certain priest"), of the several of his group that enter the lottery to exercise a certain priestly function: "to enter into the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense." (v. 9). She, belonging to the line of Aaron.
The conduct of both was irreproachable, even though they had no offspring, for she was barren and they were both advanced in age (v. 7). They behaved as the Lord had asked of Abram: "Walk in my presence and be perfect." (Gen 17:1), in spite of the fact that "Abraham and Sarah were old, of advanced age, and Sarah's rule of women had ceased." (Gen 18:11).
Zechariah offered the fragrant incense and the people prayed intensely outside (v. 10), since it was a "a burnt offering, a sweet-smelling offering in honor of the Lord." (Lev 2:2). But the Lord bursts in unexpectedly, takes the initiative by sending an angel: he was "standing on the right side of the altar of incense." (v. 11). He announced to him that his prayers had been answered: his wife would bear him a son, and he would name him John (v. 13). "In the spirit and power of Elijah."Juan would prepare "to the Lord a perfect people" (v. 17).
Dumb (and deaf)
It was too much for Zechariah to accept the announcement, as it was in the past for Abram, who asked for a sign (cf. Gen 15:8), as it was for Gideon, who demanded repeated proofs (Jk 6:17,36,39), and for King Hezekiah (2Ki 20:8). These obtained the sign from God, but Zechariah was asked only for trust: it was already sufficient proof to be in the presence of God himself in the sanctuary and to receive the visit of Gabriel, who attends before the throne of God and was sent to speak to him and give him great news (v. 19). For not having believed, the test would consist of a punishment: to remain mute until what was announced was fulfilled (v. 20).
At the time, Elizabeth conceived but hid herself, perhaps hurt for not having trusted in those prayers of a young wife without offspring, but grateful because it was God who had given her the gift of motherhood. From that moment on, the evangelist also complies with the angel's disposition: to leave Zechariah mute, since he disappears from the scene, in favor of his wife Elizabeth. What is more, it is as if Zechariah is also deaf, for he does not seem to hear the other great news: the woman who comes to his house, Mary, is the Mother of the Lord, as Elizabeth announces (v. 43).
It is noteworthy that when Juan was born, neighbors and relatives asked "by signs" to Zechariah about the child's name (v. 62). In fact, when Zechariah came out of the temple after the vision and tried to explain himself by signs to the people, "remained mute" (in gr. kófoswhich can also mean "deaf," cf. Ex 4:11).
"John is his name."
Once the child was born, at eight days old, the circumcision and the imposition of the name. The relatives were astonished when Elizabeth declared with forcefulness that "his name shall be John" (v. 60). Then Zechariah reappears and is asked by signs about the important matter: "And he, asking for a tablet, wrote: 'John is his name'." (v. 63). And the angel's words are fulfilled (v. 13): once the father had given him the name, his dumbness (and deafness) ended. Zechariah burst out in blessings to God, which caused a great trembling and admiration among the people: not only among the eyewitnesses, but also among those who heard the news. All hold in their hearts what they have seen and heard (vv. 65-66).
Such is Zechariah's joy that the Holy Spirit fills him to prophesy. Benedictusa song totally rooted in the Old Testament, due to its continuous quotations and allusions to it (Ps 41:14; 72:18; Ml 3:1; Is 40:3; 9:1, etc.) of immense gratitude to God for his infinite mercy towards the people of Israel and of a holy pride for having begotten a child who will become a child in the future. "prophet of the Most High" and that "will guide our steps" (the footsteps of God's people, to which Zechariah belongs) "on the road to peace" (v. 79).
The past sadness for not having offspring became for him a "joy and happiness"The angel had told him (v. 14), but not because he had offspring, but because that son was going to dedicate himself completely to a divine mission: "to teach his people salvation, for the forgiveness of sins." (v. 77).
And so Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth, become an admirable example of parents saintly proud of the divine vocation of their children.
Professor of Sacred Scripture