At Mass this morning I was struck again by something I've noticed before. Mary's response to the angel's announcement that she would bear a child, "How can this be, for I do not know man?" is outwardly very similar to Zechariah's, when an angel appears to him and tells him that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son. "How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years?"
Yet, Mary's question is favorably received, while Zechariah is punished with muteness, because he didn't believe the angel's words.
Evidently, the "rightness" and "wrongness" of the response doesn't lie in the words, but in something else.
Mary's response was an expression of pure and reverent inquiry, while Zechariah's was one of skepticism and doubt. Hers sprang from deep humility; his sprang from pride.
It's true in human relations too. The same outward words and gestures can have a very different "feel" and very different effect, depending on the inner attitude they convey.