Life is like a giant puzzle. When we are young we can't even know what pieces we have to work with. When we get older, the pieces of the puzzle do not always seem to fit. We try to fit the pieces together by turning them around, seeking new pieces, and often we let the puzzle of our lives just remain disconnected because we often do not know what to do with our lives.
These readings today can be like a puzzle as well. In 1 Kings, Elijah came to Elisha in the field where he was plowing. Elijah through is cloak over Elisha. Elisha knew that this was a call from the prophet to follow him. Elisha told Elijah that he had to go home to kiss his mother and father. Elijah told him that he should do that. So Elisha went home to his parents and then killed the oxen and had a big feast for the workers. After doing all of that Elisha followed Elijah because he felt the call of God. This puzzle began to fit together well after Elisha was called.
In Galatians, Paul is telling the people that they should always be led by the Spirit and not self-indulgence. This is sometimes difficult to do because we sometimes do not know if the Spirit is calling or self-indulgence is calling. Paul is speaking about loving your neighbor as yourself. Sometimes this is easy to do. Sometimes it is not easy to do. The puzzle in all of this is how to know if the Spirit is calling, how much the Spirit is asking us to do. This is another difficulty of finding what piece of the puzzle God is asking us to connect together.
The third reading, the Gospel, is probably the most difficult to understand. Jesus sent forth messengers to announce that he was coming through their town on his way to Jerusalem. James and John wanted Jesus to call fire down from heaven and burn the town. What an outlandish suggestion this was because Jesus had been calling out for mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for the last three years. I am sure that Jesus was so dismayed and probably angry that he could not believe his ears.
Later on in the passage, he met a man and asked him to follow Him. The man said that he had to go home to bury his father. Jesus said to him," Let the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to spread the news of the kingdom". What a hard thing for the man to hear. I would not be able to follow this admonition of Jesus if he had said it to me. What I am sure that Jesus meant is that we need to always, without fail, is to spread the news of the kingdom at all times because this is what we are called to do as Christians. But we also need to it when it makes good sense. The man had to be with his family at this time to console them and provide for them. I am sure that Jesus said we always need to spread the news of the kingdom for effect because of its importance. The man was obviously caring for the kingdom by caring for his family, comforting them, providing for them in this crisis. Compassion for his family was the "news of the kingdom".
As you can see from these three readings, it is important to carefully analyze any call or message that we hear from God. To take the readings in Scripture literally is not always a good thing. We have to carefully study the context of the scripture and pray about what it means for us. There are times that the words of Jesus said are for a reason. Also, we have to look at who Jesus is speaking to. These are more pieces of our puzzle that we must actively think and pray about before we rearrange our lives.
When I was a child I thought that my life's direction would be easy to follow. All of the pieces of the puzzle would fit together. When my family arrived, I concentrated on the parts of the puzzle that dealt with my family and my situation in life. I soon realized that I could not use the pieces of the puzzle that I had formed in my head. I had to ask God for new pieces, or changed pieces, or different colored pieces that I had never thought of before. I had to be open to the puzzle taking a different shape and form.
We all have certain given commitments in life. To read scripture literally is not a sure thing for us to do. If we have a family, we cannot go abroad and preach the Gospel at a moment's notice. It would have to be part of a jig saw puzzle piece that has been on the table for a long time. If we want to follow the message of Jesus we have to have a clear idea of what we are asked to do and how it will affect the others we live with. What these readings are trying to say is that we have to be on the alert for what Jesus might ask to do and to discern what is next.
Perhaps the Spirit of God is saying to us to give up some of our commitments so that we can better focus on our responsibilities. If we are scattered among too many things, we cannot fully focus on the needs of our family or job. Perhaps Jesus is asking us to focus on ourselves. Are we as individuals going, and going, and going without having time for ourselves. We need to be compassionate to ourselves before we can be compassionate to others. Being compassionate to me is very hard to do. I have to stop the phone calls, the babysitting, and the rushing around and take time to be compassionate and caring to myself. The pieces of my puzzle seem to fit together better and more easily as I got older.
Sometimes we get into a habit of comparing the pieces of our puzzle to someone else's puzzle. All of us have different energy levels, different strengths, and different callings from God. If we were able to look at everyone's jigsaw puzzle today in this church, they would be all shapes, colors, sizes. If God and the Holy Spirit are directing us to form and shape our own puzzle we would not have much problem doing it right.
I am sure that when God calls the people from Jesus Our Shepherd, God is very pleased. All of you lead good lives of service to family, neighbors, and community. Sure, we all can do better at times and this is what each of us is trying to do. Keep listening to the call of God and continue to be a messenger of good news. Always ask what more you can do to help the poor and oppressed. But also ask yourself what more you can do to be compassionate to yourself. God does not want us running around all of the time and busy all of the time. In prayer and meditation help realize the joy and love that is all around us. God wants us to be good to ourselves as we good to others.