A chorus of conservative criticism greeted the invocation of martial virtue in his State-of-the-Union speech. Max Boot wrote that the military is “not a model for the rest of society.” Matthew Cantirino found Obama’s “conflation of ‘military’ and ‘society’ [to be] worrying.” George Will similarly opined that “The armed services’ ethos, although noble, is not a template for civilian society.”
I don’t disagree with the main thrust of these criticisms. And yet I would want to blunt the sharpest edge of the claim that the military holds no lesson for relationships in civil society:
When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man 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 servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israelhave I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Mt 8.5-13)
The short “I too” in the 9th verse is powerful. The centurion suggests that, like Jesus, he too is “a man under authority, with soldiers under me” and so he more fully understands Jesus’ authority. In response, Jesus marvels
To be sure, this centurion would seem exceptional, even among military men. Nonetheless, military life would seem to hold some lessons appropriate to civilian life.