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.


Bonhoeffer on Fear

dietrich-bonhoefferI’ve been rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book, Discipleship, over the past month or so. As I was reading this past week, a paragraph from his reflections on Matthew 10:26-39 stood out to me. Here it is:

Human beings should not be feared. They cannot do much to the disciples of Jesus. Their power stops with the disciples’ physical death. The disciples are to overcome fear of death with fear of God. Disciples are in danger, not from human judgment, but from God’s judgment, not from the decay of their bodies, but from the eternal decay of their bodies and souls. Anyone who is still afraid of people is not afraid of God. Anyone who fears God is no longer afraid of people. Daily reminders of this statement are valuable for preachers of the gospel.

Henri Nouwen on Compassion

henry-nouwenHere is a quotation from Henri Nouwen that I shared in my message, “Compassion,” this past weekend:

God is a compassionate God. That is the good news brought to us in and through Jesus Christ. He is God-with-us, who finds nothing human alien and who lives in solidarity with us. He is a servant God who washes our feet and heals our wounds, and he is an obedient God who listens and responds to his divine Father with unlimited love. In fellowship with Jesus Christ, we are called to be compassionate as our Father is compassionate. In and through him, it becomes possible to be effective witnesses to God’s compassion and to be signs of hope in the midst of a despairing world.

From Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri J. M. Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison.

Christ Speaks in Stories

CT ct-prj-christian-wiman06.jpgThis from Christian Wiman in his moving book My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.

Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story, because existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person. He uses metaphors because something essential about the nature of reality – its mercurial solidity, its mathematical mystery and sacred plainness – is disclosed within them.

The Teacher Sits

Only someone who is silent is listening….Thus, the world reveals itself to the silent listener and only to him; the more silently he listens, the more purely is he able to perceive reality. – Josef Pieper

The Teacher sits
like a child
on the floor
in a room
of adults
standing above him.

He speaks of life
in terms so clear
they largely laugh
or coo in baby talk,
unheard by those standing
within misunderstanding.

This is the way
to wisdom’s womb:
humble oneself
like a little child;
lurk beyond detection
and crawl inside listening Love.