To be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth is the first command given to the human family at the dawn of time (Gen1:28). To be fruitful and bring new life into the world was a sign of God’s blessing. Not being able to bring children into the world was a cause of shame and hurt with the couple feeling abandoned or punished by God. In today’s readings rather than being cursed two families are going to be blessed. Luke stresses that Zechariah and Elizabeth are devoted, upright and deserving of God’s blessing. Both Manoah’s wife and Elizabeth are given the unexpected news that they will bear children. Not just any children, but ones who would both play critical roles in salvation history. Samson’s strength will defend Israel in their conflict with the Philistines, and John the Baptist will courageously challenge Herod and prepare the people for the coming of the promised Messiah.
There is a strong contrast in how the message of the angels is received. Samson’s mother is receptive and trusting whereas Zechariah questions and is temporarily silenced till the birth of John the Baptist. We can feel sympathy for Zechariah who has every right to question Gabriel’s startling but welcome news. The scriptures provide many examples of not only the different ways that God communicates with us and the wide range of human responses from trust and obedience to doubt, questioning, and disbelief. Whatever our response to God’s actions in our lives we can rest assured that we have plenty of company!
Fr. Chris Monaghan CP, lectures in the New Testament and is President of Yarra Theological Union. He is a member of the Passionist community of Holy Cross in Templestowe.