Today we start the Gospel of Luke. I love Luke because of the historical nature of this work. He states from the outset that he has approached this as a historical investigation and has made efforts to confirm the things that he is writing. The best historical evidence suggests a date as early as A.D. 60 for when the Gospel was written.
Luke begins by recounting the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist. He starts with this passage:
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah,
So John the Baptist’s father is Zechariah, who is a priest. It follows therefore that his son will also be a priest. Zechariah is working in the temple at the time he is told that his wife will conceive and bear a son. Some background here is helpful. The Jewish priesthood belonged to the tribe of Levi and all male members of the tribe were priests. They performed the duties of the temple. However, as the nation grew there became more male members of the Levi tribe than there were jobs in the temple. To address this there was a rotation system, each person getting two weeks a year. Further the jobs of service in the temple were divided into hundreds of smaller jobs. For example, one job might be t light a candle, the next job to carry the candle to the lamp, then one person would light one lamp and the next person another and another, etc. To determine who did this the priest drew lots. Given that background notice what happens next:
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
So it was Zechariah’s week to be in the Temple and he draws the lot that gives him the very coveted job of entering behind the veil to light the incense. This is a prestigious and holy job, thus all the other priests remain just outside the veil praying. Another important fact here is we see that in order to select who would get this job the priests drew lots. Luke begins his Gospel with this story and he will begin the book of The Acts of the Apostles with a similar story when the Apostles draw lots to see who will get Judas’ job. This is an indication that the Apostles are priests.
Next the Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he will have a son. Zechariah asks a question:
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Notice, that Zechariah’s question has a strain of doubt. He questions the possibility of this because his wife and him are of advanced age. This will become important when the Angel makes a similar announcement to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Finally, notice that Luke concludes with relating the remaining story of the other priests waiting outside the veil.
21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
All Zechariah had to do was go behind the veil and light incense and come back out. That is why they are “wondering at his delay”. Despite the dramatic encounter with the angel and his inability to speak Zechariah stays until “his time of service was ended”, again a reference to this weekly rotation system.