“And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they all marvelled.” (Luke 1:63)
Our Gospel passage today is a classical drama. News goes around the neighbourhood that the “barren woman” has given birth. Many who have laughed and mocked a while come to see things for themselves. What name would this child be called? Surely, it would make sense to name him “Zechariah” after his father. This would bring honour to his father, his name would live on it would be a historical record that this faithful priest did not die childless.
Put yourself in the shoes of Zachariah at this moment. Wouldn’t you rather call this child your own name? Wouldn’t you want your name to live on? For us in Africa, we don’t take things like this lightly. However, we must face the truth: it is how you live that would make your name live on – no one will remember you because your children bore your name. It is your good deeds, not your children that would immortalize your name.
Zechariah once doubted and for this, he lost his power of speech. Here was a test once again not of his faith in God but of his willingness to obey God’s instruction. The Angel Gabriel was quite clear: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:13). If despair had made Zechariah doubt, would he allow pride to make him disobey? In his silence, he must have thought carefully on the choice he was about to make.
In the meantime, Elizabeth his wife spoke up: “Not so; he shall be called John.” (Luke 1:60) We are not told how she came up with the name. We do not know if the Angel Gabriel also appeared to her and it couldn’t have been Zechariah since he couldn’t speak. One thing we cannot deny here is that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Surely, this was a Patriarchal society. The words of a woman did not carry as much weight as that of a man. They were going to ignore Elizabeth and hear from Zechariah himself. So they gave Zechariah a writing tablet. Note: Zechariah’s power of speech did not return once Elizabeth conceived, his speech did not return for nine whole months of pregnancy, his speech did not return upon the baby’s delivery. His speech did not return for eight days. It was only after Zechariah wrote “His name is John” that he regained his power of speech.
What does this teach us? Perhaps, if Zechariah had chosen to disobey the Angel’s instruction, he probably would have remained dumb forever. Let us learn to swallow our pride and obey God’s instruction even if we do not understand.
Once he gained his power of speech again, Zechariah knew this was no ordinary child. He knew at once that this was not merely a product of his body but the work of God. He knew immediately that this child was the one spoken of by the prophet Malachi as the “messenger to prepare the way before me.” (Today’s first reading). Zechariah opened his mouth to sing a song of thanksgiving.
There may a lot of things to complain about in your life, you may have a lot of reasons to be angry with God but remember that if you still have the power to speak, use your lips to praise God.
Let us pray: God our Father, give us the grace to obey you more and more. Amen.
Bible Study: Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24, Psalm 25, Luke 1:57-66)