written by Brandon Noel.
So, I just got back from vacation with my wife and my daughter, and after a busy and tiring day of travel, my little five year old princess says “Daddy, can we watch the Star Wars with the big slug guy?” My response was, “Why wouldn’t we?!”
Even though neither her or her mommy made it through till the end, I, of course, had to finish it for the 11,00th time. But the ending commented on an idea that I’ve been chewing on for months: Losing.
Luke Skywalker is imprisoned by the evil emperor, taunted and forced to watch his outnumbered friends sacrificing their lives in a fierce space battle, and the emperor tells him, “With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant.”
To this, the young Luke, who is desperate to do what is right, what is expected of him, and to become a Jedi, objects to the idea that he would ever succumb to evil. But the emperor confidently informs him that “It is inevitable. It is your destiny… you are now mine.” And at that moment, he is right.
You see, Luke and I and most of you have the same problem. We misunderstand losing. The Emperor was right that Luke was his servant, but not because Luke was actually destined for evil, but because the soon-to-be-Jedi had not learned the lesson from his first encounter with his father on Cloud City.
Earlier in the film, Yoda hints at this lack inside Luke, though he doesn’t name it explicitly. Luke says he has come back to fulfill his training and Yoda tells him “Know you everything that you already need,” The word know is very important there.
Luke lets out a sigh of relief, “Then I am a Jedi”, almost as if he had not been too sure of himself though he looked like a Jedi, had the power of a Jedi and the weapon of a Jedi. Yoda, however, in his wisdom informs him “not yet” because he must go back and confront Vader again. Confronting is different from knowing. It is acting on what you know. It’s an experience because of what you know.
Now, I have always struggled with this task when watching the film even as a boy. Until tonight, I used to think the final test of a Jedi Knight was to defeat a Sith. For the good guy to beat the bad guy. But tonight I saw something different.
So, Luke eventually takes up his weapon and tries to destroy what he sees as the source of evil trying to dominate him and others. And after a passionate duel between him and Vader, Luke gains the final advantage and has him at his mercy, ready to do what he thought all along his teachers wanted him to do: confront Vader, beat him, kill him, stop the Sith.
But in that moment, at the precipice of achieving what he has wanted for years, everything becomes clear. Confronting Vader was not about beating him in swordplay, it was about not needing to beat him at all.
This is, at its core, the message of the cross. Losing.
Whenever I watch Star Wars now it lacks the narrative tension of a new movie I’ve never seen before. Why? Because I know how it ends. But the first time I watched it, like any story, all the plot points, script choices and editing worked together to suspend me in that tension of “what’s going to happen?”
Now when I watch it, even though all those factors are unchanged, they don’t produce the same effect. My familiarity with the outcome essentially creates an Unfamiliarity with the narrative. Though I know it, I no longer experience it.
So, yeah, about the crucifixion story. We know how it ends, right? For many of us, we probably can’t even remember not knowing the ending. Jesus was resurrected. He’s taken a beating and died, but eventually it all worked out because he came back to life.
For his followers, however, who loved him as a friend and a teacher, who spent countless hours by his side, it was ONLY the tension they could feel. They had been expecting a victory, the defeat of all that was wrong and evil in the world by the messiah. And now they were all watching him be tortured to death.
For you and me it would be like watching something we have been deeply vested in for years, like a job or a relationship or a creative project, slowly be torn apart.
So, quite often, we take up our lightsabers and we look for the villain. Sometimes there seem to be obvious ones. Sometimes we create them. I have done this multiple times, even into my adult life. As a husband and a father I have done this. Why?
Well, like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Roman guards came to take Jesus into custody based on the betrayal of one of their own, I felt like I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing, could I? Wouldn’t that be weak of me? Wouldn’t that be wrong to let the bad guy win?
But there Jesus went to the cross. Not defending himself. Losing. The bad guys winning. How can this be the way?
For Luke, he realizes that he has overcome all the awesome powers of the Emperor by rejecting the need in himself to be at war with those powers or external forces. Whoever wins the battle in space is now no longer a reflection on what is going on inside of Luke. He no longer fights the “narrative tension” about what will happen, and is at peace within himself and his surroundings and his circumstances. He loses. He wins.
The true power of the resurrection in our lives, the true freedom that it offers us in a real and operative way on a daily basis is not a power to win, but a power to lose. When we lay down our weapons and have true peace within ourselves, in Christ, no circumstance has any rule over who we are.
We are no longer living afraid of the narrative uncertainty of our own lives, because we do not look to the “outcomes” of our situations as indicators of our worth or identity. We are at peace, not because everything will go the way we hope it does, but because we no longer need it to. That has become to us, the old narrative about how we gained or not, and we have adopted a new narrative about ourselves where by all measures and counts we may have lose. But we win.
Brandon and I grew up in school and church together. He is my oldest friend that I have and we still are close today. You can follow him on Twitter here.