Condescension VS Enabling
I hear it all the time. We’ve got to get down to their level! We say this with all good intentions. We want nothing more than everyone to embrace the Orthodox Faith. It can be frustrating when we are surrounded by people who do not desire what we desire. So, we think it helps to condescend to their level to show them we love them.
This is what Christ did to show His love for us. He came down from heaven to live among us, as one of us, to save us. The crowds responded by following Him, cheering Him, and spreading news about Him. Then suddenly, they changed their mind. The same crowd spat on Him, killed Him, and slandered Him. You would think they would be ‘on His side’ since He condescended for them. Think again.
At that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called his disciples, and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles; Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaios, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all.Luke 6.12-19
In today’s Gospel lesson we see the reaction of the crowd to Christ’s condescension. It wasn’t that long after when they left because they “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12.43) It didn’t matter that Christ had condescended for them. It didn’t matter that Christ was willing to die for them.
Christ condescended for a purpose. He didn’t simply want to come down to our level. He wanted to lift us up. He didn’t stay down with us. He pulled up those who were willing to follow Him. The problem with ‘modern day’ condescension is that most of the time we never raise others up. We get down without getting up.
When our condescension enables bad behavior, we all lose. There will always be someone lower that we ‘must get down for’ despite evidence that they don’t want to be lifted up in the first place. As the saying goes, “If you have low expectations, you will receive low results.”
In his book “Bad Religion, How we became a nation of heretics,” author Ross Douthat chronicles how the constant action of lowering expectations has result in the opposite desire. Rather than a Church that is thriving, America has a Church (he is speaking of Christianity in general) that is in serious decline.
It is time to learn from the past mistakes of people with good intentions. Rather than lowering our standards to ‘keep the pews full’ as Douthat says, we should raise the standards to show that what the Church has to offer is worth the sacrifice.
Thousands of martyrs, saints, and holy men and women have set the example of the great blessings that come from higher expectations. As Saint Paul says, “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” (2nd Corinthians 4.15) Higher expectations will lead to more grace and more glory to God.