Monday, February 14, 2011

The Cost of Graciousness

My friend Andy Kerckhoff, who has a wonderful blog called Growing Up Well, passed along this CNN piece the other day on facebook.  It is a story about Four-star General Peter Chiarelli, the number two ranking general in the United States Army, and events which occurred at a recent dinner in Washington D.C.

White House adviser Valerie Jarrett was seated at a table and saw General Chiarelli walking by out of the corner of her eye.  What caught her attention was the striped uniform pants he had on, which apparently looked quite similar to those which the waiters were wearing.  Before she saw anything else, she asked him to get her a glass of wine.  She was understandably mortified by her gaffe when she realized who he was, Gen. Chiarelli responded in a manner that is all too unfamiliar in our world today:
Rather than take offense, or try to make Jarrett feel small for her blunder, the general, in good humor, went and poured her a glass of wine. It was evident that he wanted to defuse the awkward moment, and to let Jarrett know that she should not feel embarrassed.
General Chiarelli would go on to say to a reporter who asked him about the incident,
"It was an honest mistake that ANYONE could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes on my pants which were almost identical to the waiters' pants -- REALLY. She apologized and will come to the house for dinner if a date can be worked out in March."
The CNN column by Bob Greene has some other examples of people showing graciousness to others and is worth reading.  I enjoyed it, but there was one part I took issue with.  It was the way that Greene began the piece:
Graciousness can pay priceless dividends.
And it doesn't cost a thing.
While I agree that the dividends of such graciousness are indeed priceless (for both parties involved), I think it must be realized that graciousness does cost something.  General Chiarelli had to lay aside his pride and the benefits of his position.  Instead of being served (as he had every right to expect), he had to be willing to serve another.

I am reminded of the example of Christ Jesus as spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV):
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
If we are to be truly gracious to others, we need to follow the example of Christ and die to ourselves.  We need to sacrifice our self-importance and pride, and assume the roll of a servant.  The cost is actually immense.  And it is precisely the immensity of this cost that makes Christ's graciousness to us so astounding.

But in Paul's words, we see that Christ is not just the perfect example of how we should behave and the perfect motivation to such behavior.  He is also the perfect atoning sacrifice for when we fail do so.  That is why he had to humble himself to the most ignominious of deaths -- that of the cross.  Because it is that death we deserved, and that death he took upon himself.  And that is why "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

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