Leadership, Patton and Jesus


From a 03/31/08 e-mail to my supervisor at the dollar store. This was a young man who had never had a paying job before, and thus certainly no experience in supervision; and I had a mind to give him some pointers on the nature of leadership. Previous conversations had already established that he regarded himself as a devout Christian.

If you’ve never seen it before, I’d urge you to see the movie Patton (link to Wikipedia).  Actually, I’d urge you to buy a copy (link to Amazon).

Luke 7:

2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.  4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”  6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.  8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”  9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

On the one hand, most of what I have been about in this life has pertained to seeking to become like Jesus here — to heal, whatever that means, with a word.  On the other hand, in this centurion I see many of the same attributes as I do in Patton, as a model leader.

I know Patton believed that Luke 23:47 mentions a prior incarnation of himself (that is, his “soul,” in Hebrew נשמה, neshama).  I am strongly tempted to believe that Luke 7 refers to the same person; who, I suspect, may previously also have incarnated as Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:27, 2 Kings 5:1: note that this man was a great general).

Patton was a hard, no-nonsense, some would say brutal, commander. But any order he gave, he himself would obey, and all his men knew that; and this mutual accountability, accountability to those addressed, what Lutheran theologians call “embodiment,” was crucial to his success.  He required his officers to be on the front lines, and wear rank insignia on their helmets.  On the one hand, any such officer becomes a sitting duck:  300 metres distant, the Nazi sniper looks through the sights on his 9 mm rifle and says, “Yawol, American colonel, you’re about to become dog food.”  On the other hand, Patton did the same thing himself, two stars on the front of the helmet; as he expected leaders to do just that, lead.

Jesus expended vast energies on the question of how people who are (or want to be) “great,” deal with persons of lesser rank — servants, subjects, or “little ones.”  And I could argue that the term “faith” as Jesus used it (verse 9 here, but also in general) might better be translated “honesty” or “integrity;” based on back-translation through the Greek and Aramaic, the ultimate root being the Hebrew אָמַן, aman.  Luke 7 portrays a man whose faithfulness, accountability, to those addressed, was such as to obtain the results he describes (verse 8).

What God says, happens.  “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  The hardest, and unfinished, task of my teaching career was to establish such honesty, such accountability, to the most difficult and disruptive of my students, as to assure that what I said would, most certainly (aman) happen; making credible (in a military sense) promises at all times, never threats.  One who establishes consummate or complete integrity, however, becomes capable of such things; what she or he says happens; which is how Jesus did what he did at Luke 8:22-25.

Postscript: This notion of accountability to the persons addressed also appears in my criteria for evaluating putative prophecy, as detailed in the previous post, “The emperor’s new clothes: False prophecy in the news.”

Related:
“Through a glass, darkly”
Hancock, Hannibal and Hitler

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