Other towns, other responses

To begin at the beginning, click here  –>   BIBLE STUDY: LUKE


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?

Jesus’ family tree

Luke 3: 23-38

Now when Jesus began his work he was about thirty years old, the son,
as people thought, of Joseph….

son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Jannai, son of Joseph, son of Mattathiah, son of Amos, son of Nahum, son of Esli, son of Naggai, son of Maath, son of Mattathiah, son of Semein, son of Josech, son of Joda, son of Johanan, son of Rhesa, son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, son of Melchi, son of Addi, son of Cosam, son of Elmadam, son or Er, son of Joshua, son of Eliezeer, son of Jorim, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Symeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam, son of Eliabim, son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Salmon, son of Nahshon, son of Amminadab, son of Arni, son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor, son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, son of Cainan, son of Arpachshad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan, son of Enosh, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.

Son of: Why was this list important to Luke? *

Thoughts on seeing the whole pictureDonna Ross

Tracing our own DNA back into the distant past has become possible in the 21st century, and millions of people are now doing just that. People who were adopted as children are discovering their birth parents; people who thought they knew their family history are discovering facts (and secrets) they never knew. We may read Jesus’ genealogy and think, “Who really cares?” But the Jews cared very much, and it turns out that we do, too.

How odd, though, that knowing our own DNA (99.9% of which we share with every human on earth) can lead us to concentrate on the .1% (our own particular ancestors) without remembering that we are all connected.

*Son of:

Matthew’s gospel begins by tracing ancestry back to Abraham (see Matthew 1:2f), but Luke traces it all the way back to Adam, the ancestor of all human beings. Luke’s story of Jesus links him to every person on earth, not just to his Jewish ancestors.

John baptizes Jesus

Baptism of Jesus – Jay Bonnell, 20th c.

Luke 3:21-22

During a general baptism of the people, when Jesus too had been baptized and was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove; and there came a voice from heaven, “Thou art my Son, my Beloved; on thee my favor rests.”

Dove: How is the Holy Spirit like a dove?

Thoughts on seeing the whole pictureDonna Ross

How does the Holy Spirit work?

From the gospel writers to artists through the centuries, the Holy Spirit has always been portrayed as a dove. The dove, however, is always and only a metaphor. No words, no images can ever fully convey how the Spirit works.

In the Temple, when Jesus was twelve years old, the question may have first alighted: What did God have in mind for him? That’s how the Spirit begins to work in us (stirring within us, planting questions in our minds).

In Nazareth, as Jesus grew up, the ideas may have shifted in his mind: Where was God leading him? That’s how the Spirit continues its work in us (in conversation with our traditions and communities, our new experiences and new ideas).

In the Jordan, as Jesus rose out of the waters, the immensity of God’s call must have filled his mind, and pointed him towards his future ministry. That’s how the Spirit continues its work in us (hinting at the shape of things to come).

Sometimes, in moments we will never forget, we also are fully aware of the Spirit descending, even resting on us — like a dove returning to her nest, making her home in our hearts.

That’s how the Spirit works.

From Wonder to CertaintyDave Baldwin (Luke 3:21-22)

At first, it was pure wonder. It all began
in the Temple at Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve.
The thought stirred lightly: that God might have
extraordinary hopes for him, a special plan.
Wonder simmered for a long time while he grew
in wisdom and in years in quiet little Nazareth.
Wonder opened wide when the son of Zechariah
baptized Jesus. In that moment, Jesus knew!
He was in the water praying with arms wide
to the world (in an unintended foreshadowing) when starry
shards of light filtered down from above
and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove
and a gentle voice confirmed the wonder, “You are
my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


A dove settles lightly wherever it chooses to rest. The Holy Spirit also settles lightly upon us, calling our attention but never forcing us. At his Last Supper (see John 14:16f and John 16:12f), Jesus will use these words to describe how the Holy Spirit works: abides in us; makes a home in us; reveals Jesus to us; reminds us; teaches us; guides us; reveals the truth to us; gives us peace.

John the Baptist prophesies


Baptized with fire, Luke 3: 16

Luke 3:15-20

The people were on tiptoe of expectation, all wondering about John, whether perhaps he was the Messiah. But he spoke out and said to them all, “I baptize you with water; but there is one to come who is mightier than I. I am not fit to unfasten his shoes. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His shovel is ready in his hand, to winnow his threshing-floor and gather the wheat into his granary; but he will burn the chaff on a fire that can never go out.”

In this and in many other ways John made his appeal to the people and announced the good news. But Prince Herod, when he was rebuked by John over the affair of his brother’s wife Herodias and for his other misdeeds, added to them all by shutting John up in prison.

Fire: What did John mean by “fire”?

Thoughts on seeing the whole pictureDonna Ross

John stands in the waters of the Jordan River, but instead of pointing to the flowing waters he evokes images of fire.

What is someone, standing undecided on the river bank, to think of these images? There is the fire of judgment, an image of eternal damnation as widespread in our own time as it was in John’s. There is the fire of engagement, which points us in new directions and empowers us to see in new ways.

If we see only one of these images, we will miss the whole picture.


John uses two contrasting images of fire — the destructive fire of judgment: “He will burn the chaff on a fire that can never go out” (Luke 3:17); and the empowering fire of the Holy Spirit: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (3:16).

In just a few years, Jesus’ disciples would experience the empowering fire of the Spirit. Luke writes in the second volume of his story: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (see Acts 2:1-4)

John the Baptist teaches

“Master, what are we to do?”  Luke 3:12

Luke 3:7-14

Crowds of people came out to be baptized by John, and he said to them: “You vipers’ brood! Who warned you to escape from the coming retribution? Then prove your repentance by the fruit it bears; and do not begin saying to yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father.” I tell you that God can make children for Abraham out of these stones here. Already the axe is laid to the roots of the trees; and every tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire.”

The people asked John, “Then what are we to do?” He replied, “The man with two shirts must share with him who has none, and anyone who has food must do the same.” Among those who came to be baptized were tax-gatherers, and they said to him, “Master, what are we to do?” He told them, “Exact no more than the assessment.” Soldiers on service also asked him, “And what of us?” To them he said, “No bullying; no blackmail; make do with your pay!”

Repentance: What is the word in Luke’s original text? *

Thoughts on seeing the whole picture – Donna Ross

The poor, as Jesus will tell his disciples, are with us always (see Mark 14:7). Since the poor are all around us, does Jesus mean we should walk by them without seeing them? Should we make a practice of helping at least one poor person on our way to our own work? Should we try to stop for every poor person? Or should we stop to look, not just at one person or several, but at the whole picture, and commit ourselves to working with others to make adequate space for everyone in our world?

* Repentance:

In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב (shuv, to return) and נחם (nacham, to feel sorrow). In New Testament Greek, the word is μετάνοια (metanoia). Metanoia combines ‘meta’ (beyond, after), with ‘noia’ (to perceive, to think). Metanoia is therefore not just sorrow and a plea for forgiveness; it is primarily a change of consciousness. Only a new way of thinking will lead us into a new way of acting.

John the Baptist preaches


John the Baptist – El Greco, 16th c.

Luke 3: 1-6

In the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberias, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, when Herod was prince of Galilee, Herod’s brother Philip prince of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias prince of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And John went all over the Jordan valley proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the prophecies of Isaiah:

A voice crying aloud in the wilderness, “Prepare a way for the Lord; clear a straight path for him. Every ravine shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill leveled; the corners shall be straightened, and the rough ways made smooth; and all people shall see God’s deliverance.” Isaiah 40:3-5

Baptism: Was there baptism before John the Baptist? *

Thoughts on seeing the whole picture Donna Ross

In a time of great social unrest, political turmoil, and desperate poverty alongside extreme wealth – a time not unlike our own time – John the Baptist comes with a renewed vision of life with God and neighbor. But to see that vision, all the obstacles need to be removed.

To clearly see the possibilities of a room, all the old furniture must be cleared away. What small things am I so used to that I can’t see past them to the bigger picture?

* Baptism:

In John the Baptist’s time the Essenes, an ascetic Jewish sect who had retreated to the desert, practiced daily ritual bathing; but ritual bathing was also quite common for ordinary Jews.

Natural lakes and rivers were regarded as the most desirable places for ritual bathing; but a cistern, a fountain, or a ritual bath (a mikveh) was also permitted. Archaeologists have discovered many ancient mikva’ot in Jerusalem – near synagogues and public places, but also in private homes.

The Law required ritual bathing whenever a person became unclean (see Leviticus 15); and by the time of John the Baptist ritual bathing had also become a traditional practice before entering the Jerusalem Temple. In Israel and throughout the Roman Empire, ritual bathing was also the final step for everyone converting to Judaism.

John the Baptist seems to have connected the ancient Jewish practice of ritual cleansing to his own call to baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

By the time of the early church, baptism was required for new Christians – now just as a sign of ritual cleansing, but as a sign of a person’s acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and Lord. (See Acts 8:36)

The Whole Picture

In today’s gospel reading Luke tells us how Jesus called his first disciples. (Luke 5:1-13).

We may remember Mark’s story better, because we’ve heard it more often – Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee; he sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the water; he calls them, and they drop their nets and follow him. Then, walking a little further, Jesus sees John and James, mending their nets. And he says to them also, “Come, follow me.”

Luke’s version has many more details. Luke tells us that Jesus is not just walking along the lakeshore: he’s been teaching, and the crowd is already so large that it is pushing him into the water. So he asks Simon (who is washing his nets after a long night of fishing) if he can sit in his empty boat, and Simon agrees. So Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat and continues his teaching.

And then, instead of getting out of the boat when he’s finished, Jesus tells Simon to take the boat out again, into the middle of the sea, and put his nets down in the water one more time.  But Simon (who perhaps didn’t care if Jesus sat in his boat while the nets were being cleaned) now objects to going back to work, because he knows there aren’t any fish out there. Yet (perhaps impressed with Jesus’ authority after hearing him speak to the crowd), Simon agrees to take the boat out again – and now the nets are filled with fish.

Over the years, this part of Luke’s story has sometimes been called the “miraculous catch”.  But the catch didn’t have to be a miracle – there were often large shoals of fish in the sea of Galilee.  One fisherman might not be able to see the fish from his boat, but a man in another boat could; or someone standing on the beach might see them very clearly. So Jesus didn’t make the fish appear, nor did he need extraordinary eyesight; he could have just seen the fish, and pointed them out to Simon.

So where’s the “miracle” in this story – is it about catching fish, or is it about seeing in a new way?

What if we could see in a new way?

With the right kind of vision, everything “snaps” into place. Then we begin to see details we’ve forgotten all about, or perhaps never seen before.

When our oldest son was about 8 or 9, he got his first pair of glasses. I remember how excited he was, riding in the car on our way home from the eye doctor – he was just bouncing up and down in his seat, pointing out things he had never seen before on the street he’d traveled so many times before. For the first time in his life, he was seeing everything – the whole picture.

And, more relevant to me all these years later, friends have had cataract surgery, and once the old lenses were gone, suddenly they were seeing see true colors again – no more yellow light clouding their vision.

What if we could put on a pair of glasses that allowed us to see the world the way God sees it?  What if we asked Jesus remove the film from our eyes?

Jesus tells us that God sees differently than we do – God sees not just the details, and God sees not just the true colors, but God sees the whole picture. When we begin to understand this – that God sees the world differently than we do – we’ve taken our first step towards seeing the world the way God sees it.

When we are willing to let go of our cataracts – let go of our comfort with the ways things seem to be; let go of our acquired cynicism, our hopelessness, our fears for the future, our partial experience that we thought revealed the whole picture….then we’re letting ourselves see the world the way God sees it.

Seen through God’s eyes, the whole world is interconnected.  God sees that I’m connected to you, and you’re connected to others, going back through our DNA all the way to the beginning of time. God sees the rich connected to the poor, and the powerful to the powerless, and citizens to non-citizens…  And in God’s eyes you and I, and every human being on this earth, we are all connected to the earth itself, and to every single plant and animal on this earth.

And the bond of interconnection, the bond that connects us to each other (whether we see it or not), the bond that connects us to our Creator, the bond that connects us to the natural world, that bond is love.

At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus is already seeing with God’s eyes. He has come out of his 40 days in the desert to his home country, Galilee, and begun to teach.

But just a month from today, the gospel for the first Sunday in Lent will take us back into the desert, reminding us of the temptations Jesus faced. When that morning comes, listen carefully to each temptation the devil offers Jesus.

With each temptation, the devil will paint a picture for Jesus – a picture of bread for a hungry man; a picture of political power for a man hungry to make the world a different kind of place; and a picture of spiritual power for a man hungry for God.

But Jesus will respond to each temptation with another picture – a picture of food that truly nourishes; a picture of political power that also shows the human cost; and a picture of spiritual power that sees the world in its true colors. And that spiritual power is love.

What if we could see God the way Jesus saw God?

In today’s gospel, Jesus’ message to Simon (and to us) is not about fishing. Jesus’ real message is about how to see God.  Listen again to what Jesus says to Simon:
Don’t be afraid.

Since the New Year started, I’ve been reading through Luke’s Gospel and I’ve seen that this same message comes to every person in the story: to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist; to Mary, the mother of Jesus; to the shepherds out in the fields; and now to these fishermen on the sea of Galilee…. The message is always: Don’t be afraid.

And it’s this same message that Jesus wants us to hear:
Don’t be afraid.

Notice that Jesus is not saying – Be afraid of the God who will judge you harshly unless you join up and fly right!  Notice that he is saying:
Don’t be afraid of God!

Too often Christians have tried to convert others to Jesus before they have really understood Jesus’ picture of God.  These attempts at evangelism have often had an underlying theme:  “Be afraid of the God who will judge you harshly unless you join up and fly right!”

But long before we try to bring someone to the Way of Jesus, we need to learn how to see God the way Jesus sees God. Then — looking at God through Jesus’ eyes — we can begin to see the world the way God sees it. Only then can we truly share Jesus’ message with others.

As we listen to Luke’s gospel this year, we’ll hear Jesus unfold his message again and again; and that message always begins with:
Don’t be afraid. 

Jesus tells his disciples (and us): Don’t be afraid.  God loves you, and welcomes you, and will always be with you.  So let’s take the first step today: Let’s ask God to rip off our cataracts. Let’s lift our eyes to the face of a loving God. Let’s try to see the world as God sees it. And above all, let’s learn to love as Jesus loves.

And now may the God of immeasurable love,
who calls us all to love without measure,
guide us this day and always;
may God’s strength uphold us,
God’s love enfold us,
God’s peace empower us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Kenwood, on February 10, 2019.