Homily from the 13th Week in Ordinary Time
I think that for most of us, one of the challenging aspects of living a Christian life is trying to figure out when and when not to be accommodating. How do we decide when to accommodate the ideas and actions others and when to insist that we cannot? How accommodating should we be of the ideas or actions of our children, siblings, spouses and friends? When should we insist that we cannot accept certain ideas or actions?
How many times we get to the end of the day and wonder: “Should I have put up more of a fight, insisted more on what I knew was right, not been so quick to agree?”; or we wonder the opposite: “Should I have backed off, given the other person more room, not insisted so vehemently?”
It seems that some propose an easy solution to the whole question of accommodation: when you can accommodate, you should. And some even have a misguided notion that this kind of accommodation is a sign of humility and goodness in a person. In fact, some insist that kindness and compassion require that we accommodate ideas and actions that we do not agree with. I find this argument rather amusing, since those insisting on accommodation are demonstrating a profound unwillingness to show it! Perhaps you have also noticed that often those who insist on accommodation the most, accommodate the beliefs and actions of others the least.
This is clearly not the path or accommodation that Christ taught. As we see in the Gospel today, Jesus could be extremely un-accommodating. Even to the point of insisting that a disciple could not bury his or her own parents before following him. He would not accommodate what seems to be a perfectly legitimate request. And yet in how many other passages we see our Lord bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of those he encountered!
Today’s Gospel reading gives us the opportunity to pause a bit and look at the whole question of accommodation. Clearly, just because we can accommodate something does not mean that we should. And so we have to ask: “Well what should the Christian accommodate? Why are there instances when Christ clearly insists that we must not make accommodation?
“For freedom Christ set us free;” St. Paul teaches us in our second reading today, “so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” In other words, do not settle for sin.
Now it is obvious to most people that when someone directly commits a sin they are enslaved by it. But what is less obvious is this: sin also enslaves those who accommodate it. In fact, sometimes it enslaves them more than the person committing the sin.
If a family accommodates a drinking problem, the whole family becomes slaves to the bottle, perhaps sometimes more than the person drinking from it. If poor sportsmanship is accommodated on the field, or lying and deceit in the workplace, or obsession with material wealth and status among friends, or immoral laws and regulations in the government, these areas of sin affect everyone involved. In other words, a family, a workplace, a community, a culture can be enslaved by darkness not only by committing sin, but also and sometimes most profoundly by accommodating it.
How many times this has become clear only after the fact: there are millions of people who regret how they were enslaved by the sins of others who they accommodated in their violence against children, minorities, the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable.
As the often quoted passage from Burke goes, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” You cannot accommodate without giving accommodation, without giving a home, a piece of yourself to what you have allowed. And that is why we all know that it is impossible to have a clear conscience when sin and evil are being accommodated. So that is a pretty clear line with regard to accommodation. Sin and evil can never be accommodated without entering into slavery.
But what about our Gospel reading today? Jesus is even unwilling to accommodate what seem to be good and noble requests: to say goodbye or to bury parents?
And so Christ shows us that there are there even times when we should not accommodate good things. Yes. Yes there are. And this is where it gets very tricky. For example: when a child is so involved in extracurriculars that they are not getting enough sleep and are showing signs of stress and anxiety and are not able to spend time with family or friends. Extracurriculars are good, but they need to be balanced with the greater goods.
Or when our adult children want us to go to camp over the weekend where there will be no possibility of attending Mass. Camp is good, but thanking God for camp and everything else he gives us is the greater good. Or when our family is life is dominated by endless xbox hours or hours in front of the tv or computer or constant interruptions from cell phones. None of these machines are evil, but they are not the greatest good.
Now many times there can be creative solutions worked out when we are not dealing with areas of outright evil, we can make reasonable accommodations that allow us to still place first things first. But sometimes, even with good things in this world, we have to simply say no. If we know that a good thing cannot help but lead us to a not so good end – if we will not be able to control it, if we know that we are risking greater goods, sometimes we must let the dead bury their dead and give no accommodation even to something that is good. This happens all the time in prayer – how many times the devil tries to distract us from prayer with the goods of this world. What is the governing concern? It is what St. Paul teaches today: we must make sure that our accommodations leave us free to follow Christ, encourage us to follow Christ where he leads us.
And this brings us to a third kind of accommodation: the path of healthy and good accommodation shown to us by Christ. Accommodation of an older parent who is having a hard time remembering, accommodation of a young child who is sick and needs our attention, accommodation of a friend who is misinformed about the teaching of the church but willing to listen to what we really believe, accommodation of the single mother trying to pay for her groceries and wrangle the children in the grocery check out. These are the accommodations of Christ, of the Christian.
When we find ourselves accommodating, we should always ask: is this accommodation one that is of Christ? Is it helping me and those around me to be more like him? If we find ourselves accommodating sin, we need to remember that it is enslaving us through our accommodation and leading us to death. When we are making accommodation for various goods, have we ensured that our lives remained focused on seeking the greatest goods. And we must all make sure that we are being accommodating enough to Christ who comes to us in prayer and the scriptures and sacraments, in the faces of the poor, the stranger, the ignorant, and the suffering.
Christ calls us to seek first the kingdom of God, his kingdom that gives us life and freedom. To make no accommodation for anything that would separate us or others from his love. To resolutely determine with Christ to journey toward the heavenly Jerusalem, following the will of our heavenly Father to the end. May he give us the grace not be tempted to make accommodation for anything that would keep us from following our his example.