So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises.
The question(s): The angelic appearances to Zacharias and Mary form a gender pair. You will find it quite useful to compare these two visitations in detail. Compare the locations of the two announcements, the life situations of the recipients, and the words used by the angel. Then consider the following questions: Why do Zacharias and Mary respond differently to the angel? Why does Mary believe but Zacharias does not? Is this what you would expect from a priest and a young woman? Compare verses 12 and 29. Are their reactions substantively different? Compare verse 18 with verse 34. How are their questions different? Why does the angel respond differently to their questions? What do you learn about asking questions from this example? Why does Luke present this gender pair?
(adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)
The Gospel of Luke contains many “gender pairs,” meaning that two stories–one about a man and one about a woman–are paired. The first of these pairs occurs in this week’s Gospel Doctrine reading with the experiences of Zacharias and Mary.
First, it is important to realize how radical the mere existence of these gender pairs are. The meta-message is that women and men are equal and (literally) comparable in Jesus’ life story. That’s a big deal in context. Some people like to disparage what they call “political correctness,” but I think it is significant that Luke went way out of his way to suggest equal representation between men and women and to point out that they would have similar experiences in relation to the Savior. If we were to model our teaching on Luke’s method of teaching, we would ensure that we taught in such a way that all members of the audience realized that the stories about Jesus were relevant to them. (I recently heard third-hand about a little girl’s happily overwhelmed reaction to a story in The Friend about a family with a step-father who was not a member of the church: “Mom, there is a story about a family just like ours!” It matters when you see [or don’t see] people like you and families like yours.)
Second, this pair is particularly interesting. Not just because it launches the story of Jesus, but also because of the different social locations of Zacharias (elderly priest) and Mary (young and of no status). So this isn’t just about gender but about social location as well. Despite their different backgrounds, both are invited to the table.
Where this gets really interesting, though, is in their different responses: Mary, after getting her question answered, models humble acceptance, while Zacharias’ question is rather different and results in an unfortunate consequence. Asking questions is not a problem here; rather, the type of questions that are asked leads to radically different outcomes. Zacharias’ question suggests that he doesn’t accept the angel as a legitimate source of knowledge; Mary’s question suggests that she needs some details filled in before she can move forward, but that she does accept the angel’s legitimacy.