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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Luke 1:5–23]

AT the time when Herod was king in Judæa, there lived, in a small city in the hill-country, a priest named Zachary, whose wife was called Elizabeth. They were both just before God, and walked blamelessly in all the commandments of the Lord. They had no children; this was a cause of great affliction to them. They often prayed that God would give them a son; but their prayer seemed to remain unanswered, as they were both now advanced in years.

It so happened that Zachary went to Jerusalem, when his turn came to perform the priestly office. He entered the Sanctuary to offer incense on the altar, while the people prayed without; and, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right hand of the altar of incense.

Zachary was troubled at the sight of the angel; but the angel said to him: “Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard. Thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. Thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth; for he shall be great before the Lord, and shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. He shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to prepare for the Lord a perfect people.”

Zachary said to the angel: “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel replied: “I am Gabriel, who stand before God, and am sent to speak to thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be able to speak until the day in which these things shall come to pass, because thou hast not believed my words.” Having spoken thus he disappeared.

Meanwhile the people without in the Temple were expecting Zachary, and wondered at his long delay. When he at length appeared, he could not speak to them, except by signs; and the people knew that he had seen a vision in the Temple. After the days of his ministry were accomplished, Zachary departed to his own house.

The promise of the Redeemer. By announcing to Zachary that his holy son should precede the Redeemer, the angel foretold the speedy advent of the Messias.

The Divinity of Jesus Christ. The words of the angel testified that the Redeemer was God: “He shall”, said Gabriel, alluding to the son of Zachary, “convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he shall go before Him.” Now, who is meant by “Him”? The Lord God is meant; and therefore the Redeemer, before whom John was to go, must be the Lord God Himself.

The power of persevering prayer. Zachary and Elizabeth had probably prayed for many years that they might have a son. Their prayers seemed to be offered up in vain, but nevertheless they persevered in laying the great desire of their hearts before God. At last they were heard, and received from God much more than they had asked for. They had asked for a son who might succeed his father in the priestly office, and they received a son who was to become a great Saint, a prophet of God, and the precursor of the Divine Redeemer. This was the rich reward of their perseverance in prayer.

Steadfastness. Zachary and Elizabeth are models of steadfastness in what is right. They lived in an evil time when most of the Israelites, and even most of the priests, had grown lax in the service of God, and no longer worshipped Him in their hearts. But in spite of the evil example of those around them, Zachary and Elizabeth remained true to God, and faithfully observed His commandments.

True justice. Zachary and Elizabeth were not only just in the eyes of men, as were the hypocritical Pharisees, but were “just before God”. Many people think it is enough to appear righteous in the eyes of the world. This may be sufficient to save us from being put into prison, but it will not prove enough to obtain for us an entrance into heaven. He who wishes to be just before God, and to dwell with Him one day in heaven, must observe all God’s commandments, and must do His will in all things as Zachary and Elizabeth did.

Abstinence from strong drink. St. John the Baptist abstained from wine and strong drinks throughout his whole life. You ought, while you are young, to abstain from all strong drinks, and especially from spirits. Such drinks ruin the health of both the soul and body of the young.

The doubt of Zachary; the sign given to him. The angel said to Zachary: “Thy prayer is heard.” Zachary ought to have known by these words that the speaker was a messenger sent by God, for God alone can see the heart, and it was from Him alone that the angel could have known what Zachary had prayed for. Nevertheless, Zachary would not fully believe the good tidings. He and his wife being old, it was so unlikely they should have a son that he asked for a sign. His request was granted. At that very moment he lost both speech and hearing, becoming (according to St. Ambrose, Maldonatus and others) deaf as well as dumb. We shall see in chapter IV that his friends had to make signs to him, because he could not hear them. This deafness and dumbness were meant to serve a threefold purpose: 1. They were to be a sign by which Zachary should know that the angel’s message had come from God, and would surely be accomplished; 2. they were a punishment of the holy man’s passing doubt, for a wilful doubt is a sin. However, we may assume that Zachary’s doubt was not quite wilful, but rather the result of surprise and want of consideration, and that therefore his sin was only venial; 3. this particular mode of punishment was to be the means of keeping secret the revelation made to Zachary. It had been revealed to him that his son should go before the Redeemer, and that therefore the Redeemer would soon come. Zachary’s impulse, in the joy of his heart, would have been to announce to all pious Israelites the good news that the day for which they all longed and the hour of salvation were at hand. Now, however, he was struck dumb, and, according to the decrees of God’s wisdom, the great secret could not just yet be disclosed to the world.

APPLICATION. You would have received many more graces from God, if you had prayed more fervently and persistently. You ought to have great confidence in the power of prayer, and excite in your heart a greater love for it. From this day forward make a point of saying all the prayers you have to say with greater faithfulness and devotion.








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