The Readings for Tuesday 3 Advent (Year 2):
Unde hoc sciam?
Whereby shall I know this?
John is the last prophet. There are no prophets after John the Baptist because Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets. God needs no other voice because God has spoken finally and that word is Jesus.
An Angel is sent to Zacharia with this news, and the same Angel is sent to Mary. Both of them are surprised. Zachary, in asking how can I know, though is all of us. He uses the same word for “know” as Mary does, to the same Angel, really.
How shall I know this…
I have not known a man…
And it is the same word used in the Greek LXX text of the Old Testament:
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In all these instances it means exactly the same thing: Experience; deep, intimate experience.
This is difference between Zachary and Maria.
Mary says how can this be, for I have no knowledge of these things…
Zach says how can I come to know this: how can I believe you…
This is our age, right? Most of us, I think, tend towards Zachary. We want not only to know… but to know how to know, to know how we can trust someone before we get suckered into their game. We don’t want to be hoodwinked, taken for fools, left with everyone laughing at us.
What if Zach had come running out of that temple with news of an angel and, nine months later, nothing? For the rest of his (already long life) he’d be the guy that sees fake angels with wish fulfillment promises, and a barren wife. How can I know this? Ya, sure, you’re making promises and you fly out of here and nine months from now how can I get a refund if this all goes bust?
Mary says, “Tell me how this is happening for I know nothing of these things.”
Zacharia says, “Show me now.”
It is often said that we live in an age of doubt. But this is not true. We live in an age of intense faith. It is misplaced and misidentified, but it is a strong faith. We believe things we read on the internet strongly and deeply. Worse, we believe headlines without reading the stories. We like posts based on header photos and we don’t even read the stuff (or the headlines). We pay no attention to the other side of any argument, believing instead what our side says about the other side. We reject religious leaders and yet follow other leaders who use religious words. (Listen to a scientist talk about not needing religion or philosophy using the words of religion and philosophy.) We praise political leaders in the way we once followed religious teachers and we dare not question them in exactly the same way; or, if I can question my leader, you certainly cannot.
We live in an age of great faith. We are surrounded by not the “nones” of surveys, but rather the “followers of anything but Christ”. I claim to follow science only, but I will deny the proofs of science if I don’t like them, or don’t “feel” them.
We want to know. We want to experience. But we don’t want to have faith.
And yet faith is required first. Always. I can’t experience God without first trusting him to be there (even if only a tiny bit). And Faith is a gift of God’s prevenient grace. Even that requires our cooperation, our leaning in to that grace. God won’t zap us with faith, but he whispers it to us if we unstop our ears. We can, without compulsion, sing along with the music already playing.
So, which will it be: Mary or Zacharia? Honestly both of them got what God promised, but one got a bit more. Both are saints, but Mary’s silent faith speaks volumes more than Zachary’s mute challenge.
How can we know?