Jesus calls his first disciples

Galilee:  fishing at sunset

Luke 5:1-11:

One day as Jesus stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the people crowded upon him to listen to the word of God, he noticed two boats lying at the water’s edge; the fishermen had come ashore and were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore; then he went on teaching the crowds from his seat in the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we were hard at work all night and caught nothing at all; but if you say so, I will let down the nets.”  They did so, and made a big haul of fish; and their nets began to split.  So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  This they did, and loaded both boats to the point of sinking.

When Simon saw what had happened he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go, Lord, leave me, sinner that I am!”  For he and all his companions were amazed at the catch they had made; so too were his partners James and John, Zebedee’s sons.

“Do not be afraid,” said Jesus to Simon; “from now on you will be catching people.”  As soon as they had brought the boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Gennesaret:  Where is this? *

* Gennesaret:

Kinneret is the Hebrew name for the freshwater lake we usually call the “Sea of Galilee.”  Luke is the only Biblical writer who calls the lake “Gennesaret” (the Greek form of the Hebrew Kinneret), which is what Jesus and his disciples would have called it. 

The burning bush and the barren fig tree

  Luke 13:6-9

Something’s wrong with this fig tree:

A land-owner came looking for fruit on his fig tree, but it was barren.
So he called the gardener and said, “This fig tree isn’t producing anything!
Cut it down!”  But the gardener answered, “Let me dig around it
and put manure on it. If it doesn’t bear fruit next year, then you can cut it down.”

There was a prolific fig tree in Grandma Ross’s orchard. That fig was truly a tree – it was taller than the walnut trees around it, bending its branches down to the ground, where they rooted again and again, taking over a whole corner of the orchard.

Our boys loved that tree, hiding under its branches, and eating the figs. When they finally came out from under it, their faces were always smeared with fig juice.

If fig trees usually produce so many figs, what’s wrong with the fig tree in Jesus’ parable? After years of waiting, it’s still just a bush.

Maybe we can get a clue from Exodus, which tells us of another kind of bush.

  Exodus 3:1-14

The LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush.

And Moses heard God calling him, saying:
I have seen the misery of my people…
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come to deliver them from the Egyptians,
and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land,
a land flowing with milk and honey.

But Moses knew he wasn’t a great speaker, and he didn’t think he’d make a good leader. So (partly as a delaying tactic) he asked for God’s Name:

Moses said to God,
“If I come to the Israelites and say to them,

‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’
and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

And God said to Moses,

I am who I am.
Go say this to the Israelites,
“I am has sent me to you. …
This is my name forever, for all generations.”

For several reasons, the ancient Hebrew text is difficult to translate, but the Hebrew letters have usually been translated into English as

I am who I am …. or …. I will be who I will be. 

But there’s yet another way to understand this text, not just literally (knowing the letters), but spiritually (knowing what the text means).

  H <— V <— H <—Y
                                                         (Hebrew is read from right to left)
The Sacred Name

In modern times, we English-speakers have often pronounced God’s Name as YAHWEH. But throughout history, Jews considered God’s Name so sacred that it
could not be spoken. This Sacred Name was called the Tetragrammaton (which
simply means, 4 letters) – Y, H, V, H. 

Wherever the Jews saw these four letters in the text, they would not pronounce them. Instead, they would substitute another word – Adonai (the Lord) or Elohim (God) or Elohim ‘ayyim (the living God).

And today, when you read Exodus in an English Bible (or in our bulletin this morning) you’ll see that the English translators have followed the ancient Jewish custom: instead of printing God’s Name, they have substituted L-O-R-D (always in capitals).  Wherever you see L-O-R-D, the original Hebrew has Y, H, V, H. 

Richard Rohr uses this passage from Exodus to teach the Yahweh Prayer: *

“Many are convinced that these four letters represent (and even imitate) the sound of breathing in and breathing out.  If they are right, that means God’s Name was not spoken at all – it was breathed!

Y—H—V—H   (pronounced Yood—Hay—Vov—Hay)

“In Hebrew and in many other languages, the word for “breath” also means “wind” and “spirit”. (In Chinese the word chi adds energy or life to the meaning – which helps us feel God’s creative energy, as well as Spirit, or breath.)

“Now if God’s Name is breathed (not spoken), this means that….

each and every moment of our lives, we are speaking the Name of God;
the Name of God is our first word as we enter this world;
the Name of God is our last word as we leave this world.

“And it also means that Y—H—V—H is ….

the same wind that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation;
the same breath that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life;
same breath that Jesus breathed out upon the cross;
same breath that Jesus breathed on his disciples after his resurrection:
the breath of the Holy Spirit, the breath of peace, of shalom and forgiveness,
the breath of hope, and the breath of life.

“Notice that there is no American, African, or Asian way of breathing….

There is no Protestant or Catholic way of breathing.
There is no Jewish or Muslim way of breathing.
There is no rich or poor way of breathing.
That’s because the air of the earth is one and the same air,
and God’s divine breath, or wind, “blows where it will” –
which is everywhere.

* Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See

To live fully, we humans need to learn how to breathe the breath of God, whose Spirit permeates us and everyone else on earth.

Indeed, the Spirit of God, the breath of God, fills the whole earth, and everything that lives upon it.

And now, back to Jesus’ fig tree

I don’t know who, or what, provoked Jesus to tell this parable.

Maybe it was the suffering of his people, crying out against their Roman occupiers; Maybe it was someone in the crowd, struggling to understand his teaching;
Maybe it was the religious leaders, stuck in their old ways of thinking.
But whoever it was, Jesus saw that their roots were stuck in hard, hard, ground.

Let the roots breathe, said the gardener to the landowner.

Everyone who’s ever kept a plant knows that they need to water it.  But did you know that roots need air as much as water?  It’s very common to see hard, compacted soil in people’s gardens or pots.  Whenever the soil has no air left, roots struggle to breathe.

Roots, and people, need to breathe.

What was wrong with the fig tree?
Maybe the Spirit of God, the breath of God, the wind of God
needed to penetrate the hard soil packed around that fig tree’s roots,
so its roots could breathe again.

What do you find overwhelming these days?

The suffering of so many, many people – all around the world?
Your own health? The health of someone you love?
Our threatened environment? The next natural disaster?
Our country’s politics? Our world’s divisions?

God sends us, like Moses, to set his people free.
But most of us are just like Moses — we don’t think we’d make good leaders.
After all, we think, what can  do?

Whenever we are afraid of the future,
whenever we are afraid of a difficult assignment,
whenever we know we can’t possibly do it by ourselves,
let’s remember to let the Holy Spirit breathe through us.

Whenever I’m afraid, I try to remember the Yahweh prayer, and breathe it —
in and out, again and again, until my own roots are aerated,
until I remember again:
God is right here. 

I try to remember to begin with the Yahweh prayer.

This prayer can free us to live fully in spite of our fears.


Preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Kenwood, on March 24, 2019


* To watch Richard Rohr lead the Yahweh prayer, go to (Part 1) (Part 2)


Other towns, other responses


In Capernaum today: this synagogue was built
on top of the synagogue Jesus preached in.

Luke 4:31-44

Coming down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, Jesus taught the people on the Sabbath, and they were astounded at his teaching, for what he said had the note of authority.

Now there was a man in the synagogue possessed by a devil, an unclean spirit. He shrieked at the top of his voice, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” Jesus rebuked him: “Be silent,” he said, “and come out of him.” Then the devil, after throwing the man down in front of the people, left him without doing him any injury. Amazement fell on them all and they said to one another: “What is there in this man’s words? He gives orders to the unclean spirits with authority and power, and out they go.” So the news spread, and he was the talk of the whole district.

On leaving the synagogue he went to Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was in the grip of a high fever; and they asked him to help her. He came and stood over her and rebuked the fever. It left her, and she got up and waited on them.

At sunset, all who had friends suffering from one disease or another brought them to him; and he laid his hands on them and cured them. Devils also came out of many of them, shouting, “You are the Son of God.” But he rebuked them and forbade them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

When day broke Jesus went out and made his way to a lonely spot. But the people went in search of him, and when they came to where he was they pressed him not to leave them. But he said, “I must give the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, for that is what I was sent to do.” So he proclaimed the Gospel in the synagogues of Judaea.

Devil: What did people believe about the devil? *

Thoughts: on receiving the message

Jesus may have held the same ideas about what causes illness as everyone else in his day (he was, after all, as human as they were). But he refused to let these old ideas shape his response to people needing help. He also did not assume that sickness was deserved because it was a punishment for sin. He listened with compassion and prayed with authority, because he knew that God does not abandon people to their suffering, but really cares for them, and wants them to be healed.

* Devils:

If you did not know about the existence of bacteria and viruses, where would you think illness comes from? In Jesus’ world, people believed they were surrounded by evil spirits, always seeking entry into their bodies and minds. There were spirits of blindness and deafness; spirits of fever and infection; spirits of insanity and moral uncleanness – and all illness was attributed to these spirits.

The town reacts to Jesus


In Nazareth: at the brow of the hill

Luke 4:22-30

There was a general stir of admiration; but they were surprised that words of such grace should fall from his lips. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Then Jesus said, “No doubt you will quote the proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself!” and say, “We have heard of all your doings at Capernaum; do the same here in your own home town. I tell you this,” he went on, “no prophet is recognized in his own country. There were many widows in Israel, you may be sure, in Elijah’s time, when for three years and six months the skies never opened, and famine lay hard upon the whole country; yet it was to none of those that Elijah was sent, but to a widow at Sarepta in the territory of Sidon (see 1 Kings 17). Again, in the time of the prophet Elisha there were many lepers in Israel, and not one of them was healed, but only Naaman, the Syrian” (see 2 Kings 5).

At these words the whole congregation was infuriated. They leapt up, threw him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which it was built, meaning to hurl him over the edge. But he walked straight through them all, and went away.

Surprised: Why were they surprised? *

Thoughts: on rejecting the message

How do I know if a speaker is truthful? And how do I know the speaker’s message is true? (And even when I trust the speaker, I may not accept the message if it conflicts with what I already “know” to be true.)

The Brow of the Hill – Dave Baldwin (Luke 4:16-30)

Jesus spoke after reading from the prophet Isaiah,
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The stunned silence was broken by one sneering
villager who wondered: “What makes you so special?”
(The Israelites claimed God was only on their side.)
The villager asked, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
“No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town,”
said Jesus. “The Gentiles are not to be denied:
They are not created to fuel the fires of hell;
Elijah sought out lodging with a widow of Zarephath
and Elisha cleansed Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy.”
For praising the Gentiles, the good people of Nazareth
were furious. They led Jesus to the brow of the hill,
but he passed through their midst to launch his ministry.

* Surprised:

The congregation was not only surprised by Jesus’ gifts (since he was only Joseph’s son), but surprised by his interpretation of Isaiah. In Jesus’ day, the rabbis interpreted “the year of the Lord’s favor” (see Isaiah 61:2) as the time when God would restore Israel’s fortunes, freeing the people from their Gentile captors. But Jesus is clearly saying that “the year of the Lord’s favor” is coming for the Gentiles also – indeed, coming for the poor and oppressed of all nations.

Jesus in his home town

In Nazareth today

Luke 4: 14-21

Then Jesus, armed with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee; and reports about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and all sang his praises.

So he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went to synagogue on the Sabbath day as he regularly did. He stood up to read the lesson, and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

He opened the scroll and found the passage which says,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me;
he has sent me to announce good news to the poor;
to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind;
to let the oppressed go free;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak: “Today,” he said, “in your very hearing this text has come true.”

Sat: If Jesus was about to preach, why did he sit down? *

Thoughts: on proclaiming the vision

We know, from listening to Jesus’ sermon (above), that he was reading from Isaiah 61 — but we also know that he left out part of a verse (compare the above with Isaiah 61:1-2). What words did Jesus leave out?  What would that omission mean to the listeners in the synagogue? What could Jesus’ vision mean for our world today?

* Sat:

We are used to preachers standing in their pulpits. But it was the custom for a rabbi to sit down after the lesson was read, and then begin teaching from his chair. This time of teaching was also a time for questions, comments, and dialogue with people in the congregation. (They didn’t wait to get to the door to tell the rabbi what they thought!)


Jesus in the wilderness

In the Judaean wilderness

Luke 4:1-13

Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan, and for forty days was led by the Spirit up and down the wilderness and tempted by the devil.

All that time he had nothing to eat, and at the end of it he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “Scripture says, “One cannot live on bread alone.”

Next the devil led him up and showed him in a flash all the kingdoms of the world. “All this dominion I will give to you,” he said, “and the glory that goes with it; for it has been put in my hands and I can give it to anyone I choose.” Jesus answered, “Scripture says, ‘You shall do homage to the Lord your God and worship him alone.’”

The devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the parapet of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down, for Scripture says, ‘He will give his angels orders to take care of you,’ and again, ‘They will support you in their arms, for fear you should strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It has been said, ‘You are not to test the Lord your God.’” So, having come to the end of all his temptations, the devil departed, biding his time.

Parapet: Where was the parapet of the temple?

Thoughts: on testing a new vision

Did you ever have an experience that made you stop in your tracks – to think about what happened to you, to try to understand what it meant? When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he heard a voice telling him, “You are my beloved Son.” The voice Jesus heard was so important to him that he retreated into the wilderness to pray.

After Jesus’ days in the wilderness, he was hungry, thirsty, and delirious. And then he heard another voice, this one tempting him, saying: If you are the Son of God…. But Jesus held firm to the voice he had heard at his baptism: God loved him, God was pleased with him, and God had a mission for him.

You are my beloved child. Could you live your life according to this vision?

* Parapet:

A parapet is a low, protective wall along the edge of a bridge or a roof. When Herod expanded the Temple, someone standing at the parapet would be able to see the whole city of Jerusalem. From that parapet, a priest would blow a trumpet announcing the beginning and end of the Sabbath, and the sound of the trumpet would be heard throughout the city. Is the parapet where the tempter sees Jesus standing, poised to demonstrate his spiritual power?