THE VISION TO ZACHARY
“Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his birth, for he shall be great before the Lord. . . . And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, that he may turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare for the Lord a perfect people.” Luke 1:13-17
1. The story is the first distinct shadow of the great event that is to come. It is cast first upon the Temple, upon the most sacred spot of the Temple, at the most sacred time, while “all the multitude was praying without at the hour of incense,” on the most sacred person, the priest Zachary, whose lot it then was “to offer incense, going into the Temple of the Lord,” and after the most sacred manner, for “there appeared to him an Angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Zachary saw “the Angel, was troubled, and fear fell upon him”; Mary later saw the Angel and “was troubled”; he before the Angel spoke, she after; which helps us to see the difference in their fear.
2. Then comes the foreshadowing of the person, the last of that procession that has “gone before the Lord,” stretching from Adam until this time. Zachary’s son shall be called John, that “is, the grace of God.” He shall be a joy to his parents, a joy to many; already the note of joy in the Incarnation is being sounded, so resonant later in all the Angels songs. Then come the characteristic graces with which the precursor is to be endowed. He shall be great before the Lord. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. He shall convert many. He shall go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, that he may turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare for the Lord a perfect people. This is he of whom Our Lord afterwards said that he was “a prophet and more than a prophet.”
3. Zachary feared, and his fear was a fear of doubt. There were apparently insuperable difficulties to the fulfillment of this promise. He forgot that “nothing is impossible with God.” Unlike the humility of Mary, which only looked to serve in whatever capacity, his humility hesitated to let God use it as He would. But God had patience; He gave him the evidence he wanted; the evidence of an Angel’s witness, and that Angel Gabriel; the evidence in his own dumbness, that he might learn better how to speak; the evidence in his own secret heart, purifying his humility, and filling himself with consolation as he dwelt upon the words: “Thou shalt call his name John, and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth.”
Summary Meditation Points:
1. St. John is the last of the line of forerunners of Our Lord. His coming is surrounded with much of the mystery and awe which belongs to like scenes in the Old Testament.
2. The character and description of John are such as to put him apart from other men. Of no one has Scripture said so much; even Our Lord Himself has given him praise that is unique.
3. Zachary, his father, was a saint, yet a saint who hesitated; and God dealt with him severely yet tenderly, inflicting a trial that He might fill him with the greater joy.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from Archbishop Alban Goodier’s “The Prince of Peace” (1913).
Art: Detail from The Visitation, Jan Lievens, 1638-40, Restored Traditions, used with permission. Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., www.stmaryscadoganstreet.co.uk, all rights reserved, used with permission.