Vulnerability of the Powerful: an illustration from King Hussein

king husseinThis past weekend in my message, “The Sent Son,” from Luke 20:1-19, I shared an illustration from Kenneth Bailey‘s excellent book, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, from the life of King Hussein I of Jordan. I am trusting Bailey about the accuracy of the story since he writes: “I was able to confirm it from a high-ranking American intelligence officer who was serving in Jordan at the time the incident took place.”

I utilized this story, as Bailey did, to help us get a sense of what is happening in the parable of the vineyard in Luke 20:9-16 when the owner sends his beloved son to confront the tenant-farmers who have already harshly rejected the servants he sent. As Bailey highlights, in a shame-honor culture the vulnerability of the powerful creates a decision moment in which those bound to a wrong response are shamed into responding honorably. For King Hussein this story ends with honor, but for the noble owner and his beloved son in the parable the conclusion is shameful rejection and ultimate destruction for the tenant-farmers.

One night in the early 1980s, the king was informed by his security police that a group of about seventy-five Jordanian army officers were at that very moment meeting in a nearby barracks plotting a military overthrow of the kingdom. The security officers requested permission to surround the barracks and arrest the plotters. After a somber pause the king refused and said, ‘Bring me a helicopter.’ A helicopter was brought. The king climbed in with the pilot and himself flew to the barracks and landed on its flat roof. The king told the pilot, ‘If you hear gun shots, fly away at once without me.’
Unarmed, the king then walked down two flights of stairs and suddenly appeared in the room where the plotters were meeting and quietly said to them:
Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonights to finalize your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousands of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way only one man will die.
After a moment of stunned silence, the rebels as one, rushed forward to kiss the king’s hand and feet and pledge loyalty to him for life.


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