Righteous and still barren
24 Wednesday Aug 2011
No tags :(
Welcome to Wine and the Word Wednesday! I’m working my way through the book of Luke to gain a better understanding of how Jesus lived His life and how I can better follow His example and reflect His image. Hopefully you’ve poured a glass of wine for yourself and found a comfortable place to sit. I’ve poured a glass of a lovely dry rosé from Spain, a rioja. For those who don’t care for wine, please feel free to pour a glass of iced tea or your favourite beverage. All are welcome to join in!
Today I’m looking at how Zacharias and Elizabeth came to be the parents of John the Baptist. This is described in the first chapter of Luke, verses 5-25, although I’m only looking at verses 5-7 today. This story is not included in the other versions of Jesus’ life. In the other versions we meet John the Baptist as a grown man, and we’ll encounter him that way later in Luke. However, Luke saw value in providing John’s background including introducing us to his parents’ wonderful story.
The first thing I notice as I read these verses is how carefully Luke paints the description of Zacharias and Elizabeth. He observes that Zacharias is a priest and Elizabeth comes from a line of priests. Like a good journalist who has done his research well, he even includes the information of which priestly division Zacharias belonged to. Again, Luke’s eye for detail is apparent. Although priests could marry someone from any tribe, marrying within the tribe was preferable. That Zacharias chose someone who was also a descendant of Aaron gives me the picture of a man with great respect for God and a high regard for the role of the priest.
Luke doesn’t stop there, though, he goes on to describe the couple as righteous and blameless. What an amazing description! There is similar language used to describe Noah, Job and Abraham in the old testament. Zacharias and Elizabeth were respected and recognized in their community as being without fault or blame before God.
Except Elizabeth was barren.
Barren isn’t a word we use much anymore. Just the way the word sounds seems to capture the powerless longing for children by someone who isn’t able to have them. For a woman in the 1st century Jewish culture, being barren was about more than not having children. Her primary role in the family was to bear and raise children, with at least one son, so that the family would continue. Among other things, a son would ensure his parents were cared for in their old age. A woman’s access to the resources of society was entirely through a male relative, first her father, then her husband and finally her son(s). A woman who failed in this critical role of producing children was looked down on by society at large and by her family. Unfortunately at that time, lack of children was generally blamed on the woman. In fact, barrenness was often seen as punishment for sin. How amazing, then, to hear this couple described as without fault or blame before God…..even though Elizabeth had failed to become pregnant.
In light of Elizabeth’s barrenness, Zacharias not only would have been within his rights to divorce her, he likely would have been encouraged to, so that he could marry again and produce children. Children were the social security of the era. The fact that he remained with Elizabeth throughout their long life (Luke describes them as both well advanced in years) says to me that Zacharias loved Elizabeth and honoured her despite the culture around them.
How does looking at Zacharias and Elizabeth give me greater insight into how to reflect God’s image? I need to question where I’m allowing my culture or tradition to determine my understanding of God and His values. Zacharias understood that Elizabeth was worthy of honour in spite of what his culture and tradition indicated. I also need to be slow to declare that someone’s painful circumstance is a punishment for sin. As Christ followers our attitudes are changing, but it seems we still struggle somewhat not to view HIV/AIDS as God’s punishment for sin. I need to remind myself that doing everything right, even being righteous before God, is no guarantee that I won’t experience pain. To reflect God’s image well, I must guard against giving the impression to others that relationship with God means I won’t experience pain in life. This requires acknowledging where I’m hurting and have unanswered questions.
A wonderful beginning to a great story that Luke has captured for us! Enjoy your wine and your evening.