The vulnerability of leadership: a story

In his book, Jesus through Middle Eastern EyesKenneth Bailey tells a remarkable story about the late King Hussein of Jordan. It is a powerful illustration of the vulnerability of leadership.

One night in the early 1980s, [King Hussein of Jordan] 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 small 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 tonight 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.

Bailey had the details of this story confirmed to him by an intelligence officer who was serving in Jordan at the time of the incident.

In his book, Bailey connects this story with the story (in Luke 20) of the vineyard owner who decides to send his son to the tenants of the vineyard who have not only refused to pay what they owe, but have mistreated the owner’s servants.

Jesus told that parable as a challenge to the leaders of the Jewish people of his day. They had attempted to challenge him in the wake of the dramatic incident of clearing the merchants from the Temple. By means of the parable, Jesus demonstrates that they are the latest in a long line of leaders who have refused to acknowledge God’s authority over his own people.

Their rejection will culminate in the execution of Jesus at the hand of the Romans.

The gesture of the owner in sending his son points to the surprising vulnerability of the authority of Jesus. He submitted himself to the hands of his enemies.

This act of surrender lies at the heart of the gospel. The King lays down his life for his people.

It’s in a deep understanding what Jesus did that leaders are humbled. An arrogant, domineering style of leadership is out of step with the example of Jesus. If you doubt that, read Philippians 2.

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