June 24, 2006

"How Shall I Know This?" vs "How Will This Happen?"

The gospel reading for today's remembrance of the birth of John the Baptist is from Luke. And in the first chapter there is the sharp - if initially subtle - difference between the response of Zechariah and Mary to good news from the angel Gabriel.

Zechariah doubts and asks, "How shall I know this?" which is the same language Abram asked God in Genesis 15:8 when Abram responds to the promise of numerous descendents with, "How can I know that shall I possess it?". In other words, both are asking of GOd how can I know you'll deliver? But at this point Abraham is Abram; he hasn't been called yet and lacks the covenant and his doubt isn't held against him. Zechariah, on the other hand, was a high priest, one of the few who could visit the Holy of Holies.

God's response is different in each case. With Abram, He responded by making a covenant with him and by working a great sign, bringing down fire from Heaven. Zechariah, on the other hand, already had the covenant and its promise. He was expected to have faith and did not and was struck mute for three days (a comfortingly mild punishment although more difficult for some than for others: today not blogging for three days might constitute a worse punishment).

Mary, on the other hand, inquires how the plan will enfold. The phrasing is different: It's not "how will I know what you are saying will happen?" but "how will this happen?". A big difference.

What is particularly interesting in this is how it relates to the as yet upbaptized Camassia, who seems half-way between the religious Zechariah (who was given the advantage of growing up in the Covenant) and the unchurched Abram (to the extent one can use "church" in that pre-Covenant age). So she's stuck between whether she should know better like Zechariah or whether she should receive a sign like Abram, although all of this is probably presumptuous for me to speculate on as I don't know her and I may be mis-reading her anyway.

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