Why did God respond differently to Zechariah and Sarah?

“When the angel came to Sarah, she didn’t rejoice like Mary did. And that got me thinking about Zechariah and when the angel came to him, he kind of has a similar reaction, but the angels reacted in different ways,” wondered Uriel. He asked Patrick Madrid, why did God punish Zechariah for his reaction, but not Sarah?

“The reason that Mary was not punished, obviously, yes she was full of grace, but it has nothing to do with her accepting the message gracefully. The problem there is that it seems Mary had made, although scripture in no explicit way tells us this, the Church fathers who comment on it say that Mary almost certainly had taken a vow of perpetual virginity even through she was betrothed and was going to be married, that she was going to live in a virginal marriage with her husband, Saint Joseph. So in her case, the reason she was greatly troubled was because she knew, in her heart, that God knew that she had made this vow of virginity. And so the angel’s message to her didn’t make any sense. Like, why would God send an angel to tell me I’m going to have a child when God knows that I’ve vowed virginity?” explained Madrid.

“In the case of Zechariah, he doubted what the angel told him, that his wife Elizabeth would have a child in her old age. Because he’s thinking, well she’s well past the point of childbearing so how’s that going to work? So it was his doubt that caused the punishment.”

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”

“Now in the case of Sarah, it seems that the punishment was played out in a different kind of way. Because we’re told that she laughed when the three men … said to Abraham and Sarah that she would have a child because she was an old woman at that time as well. Now, she did in fact have a son and the son Isaac was born to her in her old age, but notice all the trials and travails that she went through.”

And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”

“She went through this hardship of seeing this rivalry between Ishmael, that was born to her maidservant Hagar, and how Ishmael lorded it over Isaac, because ‘I am the firstborn son of Abraham.’ Even to the point of seeing her son taken away from her by Abraham to go up to the mountain—Mount Moriah—on which he was told by God to sacrifice his only son. So, I would say that the punishment that Zechariah experienced immediately by being struck down was similar to the way in which Sarah experienced the kind of punishment for her doubt, but it was extended over time in her case and it was not the same kind of punishment. But she too, you might say, was chastised by God for doubting,” said Madrid.


Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.