It is easy to fall into criticism of Zechariah. Shortly after his lapse and punishment, we meet the Virgin Mary whose response to the angel is quite different and opens her womb by faith to the Word made Flesh. It is to be noted that Zechariah asked, “How will I know this, for I am an old man?” whereas the Virgin Mary asked, “How will this be, since I do not know man?” An old man having a child with his elderly wife at least had Biblical precedents, especially in the case of Abraham and Sarah. A virgin conceiving was beyond beyond, but Mary believed it was possible, inquiring only as to the “how” of it all.
But what came of Zechariah’s stumbling response? Well, for one, the home of him and his wife became like a silent monastery, since he couldn’t talk, and she hid herself for five months, and presumably engaged in an awful lot of prayer. John’s growth within his mother’s womb was a spiritual experience for all of them for that. Zechariah had time to compose that beautiful hymn sung every morning throughout the world, a testimony to his renewed faith, and his encapsulation of the Hebrew people’s yearning for a Messiah. Zack’s suffering bore fruit that lasts even through today and into eternity.
We all should strive to respond to God as the Blessed Mother did: believing that what He says is true and will happen, even if we are no surer of the manner as she was, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” More often than not, I’m afraid, we respond like Zechariah: hesitant, questioning, offering all sorts of excuses of why it is impossible. At some point, I suppose, there is the danger of God withdrawing His promises, if we were to remain without faith and confidence. Usually we maintain a level of it to leave us open to His wonderful gifts. Many times we suffer because of our hesitancy; things do not work out as we hoped, however weakly. It is tempting to look back and be harsh with ourselves for not trusting more, believing more deeply, giving a response of greater love to Love Himself.
Yet, remember Zechariah: a good man, troubled with personal weakness, feeling the sense of being abandoned by God since he had no children (quite the social stigma of those days), perhaps castigating himself for not doing better when tested. Then, He was graced with the opportunity to turn even his own weakness into something beautiful for God, and we will be singing his song of praise until the end of time. Not a bad ending, I dare say.