‘Women’s Faith 2 v Man’s Faith 0‘
Ever felt like you were getting the rough end of someone else’s special treatment? Or that you and a colleague/friend/sibling could do the same things wrong, but only you would get in trouble?
I wonder if Zechariah raised an eyebrow when God responded in very different ways to the lack of faith shown by him and Mary.
Compare verse 18 with verse 34:
“Zechariah asked the angel [Gabriel], “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel [Gabriel], “since I am a virgin?”
Zechariah’s unbelief led to him being struck mute for the entire length of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, while Mary received only reassurances.
But if Zechariah DID raise an eyebrow, it probably wasn’t for long. He was aware that God knew his heart, and Mary’s heart. He would have recognised that there was closer to a refusal to believe in his own heart, and more of a bewilderment in Mary’s. Zechariah – it seems – believed it couldn’t happen (because he and Elizabeth been trying for many years without success), whereas Mary didn’t understand how it could happen (because she and Joseph had not yet had sex).
When Elizabeth and Mary greeted each other, Zechariah’s wife even managed a brief dig at him; not, presumably, in a malicious way, but fairly blatant:
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” (Luke 1:45).
The old priest’s unfavourable comparison with the betrothed young lady and his own wife doesn’t end there. Sometimes when I read these verses I wish the disciples knew the story and wrote it down earlier. Maybe then they could have read it to themselves and pondered just how aware Elizabeth and Mary were about the child Mary was carrying, versus the disciples’ persistent thick-headedness over Jesus’ entire three year ministry.
Compare the incredible prophecy to Mary in v.31-33, with her words in v.38. Not excitement at an elevation (because she isn’t elevated, merely highly blessed), and a desire that God’s Word would come to pass.
Then in v.41-43, Elizabeth – unlike her husband – was filled with the Holy Spirit, and knew exactly who Mary was carrying: “my Lord” (v.43).
To see the women with a more clear understanding of Jesus, and more faith in him, was a pattern that would repeat itself after Jesus died, and when he rose. The men anxious yet skeptical, but the women faithful and understanding, accepting God’s Word.
God wasn’t overturning ecclesiastical leadership structures or the headship of men in the home, but he was charting for his people a hard course away from the ungodliness of a Pharisaical, patriarchal structure that valued, esteemed and trusted women less than men.
Mary is not to be venerated and cannot be prayed to because she can’t hear you. But she and Elizabeth are worthy of enormous respect and honour as women who trusted God with a wholeheartedness and gratitude that we should aspire to.