The peace of the Republic meant security for the Jedi. As an unchallenged part of the galactic government, they saw no cause for concern. No threats remained in the galaxy to menace them. Most Jedi could pass a lifetime without thinking of the Sith, the dark warriors who once opposed them. Those rare few who warned that the Sith may not be eradicated were dismissed. The Jedi were everywhere, and saw everything. No Sith could arise without the Jedi noticing. Even if one did, an ancient prophecy said the Chosen One would destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force. They never imagined that the one spoken of by this prophecy would leave the Jedi Order a smoking ruin.
The Sith also knew of the prophecy. It was a nagging fear in the back of their minds, even as the Rule of Two slowly worked towards domination of the galaxy. What could the Sith do to avoid a downfall that had been preordained? Sith mystics sought a way to avoid the prophecy. Others dismissed it as a meaningless Jedi legend. The Sith condensed their power, hidden in the shadows, unobserved by the Jedi. In time, just as the Jedi had forgotten the Sith, the Sith forgot about the Chosen One.
It took a millennium of planning for the Sith’s grand plan to reach its climax. Palpatine prepared to take the reins of the galactic senate, where he would manipulate his weak-willed colleagues into granting him ultimate power so he could finally exterminate the Jedi. Then a boy named Anakin Skywalker was found, and whispers began to spread: he was the Chosen One.
A weaker Sith might have been shaken. It seemed that the Jedi prophecy would disrupt his carefully laid strategy. Palpatine, however, was not weak. Patience and stealth had served his order well for a thousand years. Panicking now would undo it all. Rather than directly attacking the Chosen One, which would certainly end in disaster, Palpatine sought a way to break the prophecy.
Years passed while Palpatine paid close attention to Anakin’s progress. His power was certainly remarkable, but he was frustrated with the Jedi’s slow and methodical ways. Palpatine formulated a new strategy. The wording of the prophecy intimated that the Chosen One would destroy the Sith, but how could that happen if the Chosen One was himself a Sith? Even if Anakin eventually overthrew him and assumed the mantle of master, the Sith would continue. The prophecy would remain unfulfilled. He did not relish the thought of training his own replacement, but the survival of the Sith depended on it.
Seeds of discord were easy to sow. Anakin had let fame make him arrogant. Palpatine fed his ego, convincing him that he deserved more than the Jedi were willing to give. With the coming of the Clone Wars, Anakin’s frustration with the Jedi Council could no longer be contained. He resented being sent to fight like a common soldier, enduring attacks and all manner of discomfort, when he should have been leading. He would not accept being a pawn in the galactic battle plan of the Jedi.
By the time the Clone Wars reached their conclusion, Palpatine’s strategy was ready. The war had left the people hungry for his new Sith Empire, and the Jedi were weak. Palpatine moved to break the prophecy. He knew that Anakin, unbeknownst to the Jedi Council, had taken a wife. His first child was due soon, and he was conflicted and panicking. When his desperation peaked, Palpatine offered the Sith as the solution. Revealing his identity to the young Chosen One brought confrontation with the Jedi, but Palpatine did not fear their attack. Only the Chosen One could destroy the Sith, and he was safely tucked away in a prison of fear and confusion.
The Jedi fell, exactly as expected, and the Chosen One was sucked into the inescapable whirlpool known as the Dark Side. As Palpatine watched the smoke rising from the Jedi temple, he could finally feel at ease. The prophecy had been subverted. The Jedi were extinct. The Sith once again ruled the galaxy.
George Lucas’s epic saga has entertained generations. Its sweeping story, amazing special effects, strange creatures, and alien planets have captivated audiences around the world. Away from the movie screen, however, we seldom see such dramatic stories, and certainly we don’t expect to be a part of them. In fact, most of us try to ensure that adventure stays out of our lives.
Yet, if you are a member of the church, you are part of a tragedy even more epic, and even more devastating, than the one George Lucas crafted on cinema screens. Two millennia ago, a small group of men and women were left with a monumental task. Their king, Jesus, had defeated death and brought a reconciliation they had thought would only come at the end of the world. The echos of his victory were being felt through all of creation, but the good news had been missed by most of the human race. This tiny group of people, with little in the way of worldly resources, came together as a family to live the life of the age to come, and tell the world how God had intervened in human history.
Those first followers of the Way, as they called themselves, were considered strange by the world. Not consumed with the power and wealth of the present age, they put aside the prejudices and vanities that defined human culture. Men and women treated each other as equals, with mutual respect and love. Jews and Gentiles joined together, sharing a meal, a house, and a family, while outside the Jews and Gentiles poured hatred and misery on one another. Even slave and master were equal within the body of the church. The rich were not more important than the poor. Every gift was valuable, every person beyond price. Their inexplicable behavior shocked the world.
What most of the world didn’t understand was that this strange family was part of God’s ancient plan, prophesied for thousands of years. The prophecy told of the restoration of the world to its creator, and the reconciliation and blessing of mankind. Yet while creation had groaned for this day, many people wanted no part of it. Those with power and wealth felt threatened by those they could not buy. Those accustomed to unquestioned authority could not abide men and women who refused to be controlled, even by the threat of death. A message had to be sent that this sort of lifestyle was not going to be tolerated.
The first attempts to stop this prophesied community used methods typical of the world. Followers of the Way were rounded up and publicly executed. Hateful rumors and lies were spread about them. Families were forced to disown any relative who followed the Way. They were spit on and despised, abused publicly and mocked without mercy. The message was clear: “Do not be like them.”
Life was not easy for the community of believers. In the marketplace they felt the stares of those who hated them. They heard the jeers and saw people whispering as they walked past. They knew that every day could be their last. Each time they left their church family, they knew they might never see them again. Yet, much to the world’s dismay, this community was not stopped. If a thousand were killed, more, inspired by their trust in Jesus, took their place.
As the family of believers grew, the opponents of the church realized that their methods were not only ineffective, but were, paradoxically, bolstering the very group they sought to destroy. Panic began to set in. What if there was no way of subverting this prophesied community before they spread the reign of Jesus to every aspect of life on earth?
The world faced a true crisis. The message of Jesus was being spread to the poor, the sinners, and the marginalized. They were being told that they were valuable; that they were closer to God than the rich, powerful, and religious; that their worth was not determined by birth, wealth, or fame. The division between the classes was threatened. If people stopped caring about chasing money and power, thousands of years of careful social engineering would be undone. And so the world tried a desperate tactic: It offered to share.
“You win,” it said. “We’ll stop attacking you. In fact, we want to join you. Here, have some of our wealth and authority. Choose the best among you, and we’ll make them powerful leaders just like us. We’ll adopt your symbols, become Christians, and make those we control do the same. We’ll build you big, expensive buildings and put a stop to all those nasty rumors.”
Some within the church opposed this proposition, but for most the offer was just what they had been seeking. Centuries of being hunted, despised, and excluded had taken its toll on their psyches. Why should they, chosen people, members of the kingdom of heaven, not have power and prestige? They celebrated the conversion of the empire, and believed that their determination had finally reaped its reward, never realizing the awful truth.
After Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, he believed that he had won. The Dark Side offered him power like nothing he had seen among the Jedi. The Sith promised him control over not only the galaxy, but life and death as well. That he was unable to stop death or overpower every enemy only fueled his rage. The Emperor convinced him that his failures were due only to weakness that he had not yet purged.
Now a servant of the Dark Side, Vader’s fate was linked to the Sith forever. All Jedi knew that “once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” The lure of ultimate control entrapped him. Even though the Dark Side tore at his soul, he pressed forward in its service, ever certain that his birthright as the Chosen One lay just ahead.
Palpatine, though, had a very different plan than the ascension Vader imagined. Now that the prophesy of the Chosen One had been derailed, he sought a way to rule the galaxy for eternity. Having neutralized the one person capable of destroying the Sith, Palpatine grasped for unlimited, unending power. He delved deep into the Dark Side to extend his life. Those around him aged and died, but he continued. The Dark Side ate his flesh, wasting his body’s appearance, but he kept death at bay. Eventually Palpatine made plans to replace his aging, and badly injured, apprentice.
His choice as Vader’s replacement came from a most unlikely source. Decades after Darth Vader had joined the Sith, Anakin’s son, long assumed to be dead, rose to prominence in the fledgling Rebel Alliance. Palpatine was anxious to turn this powerful new Jedi to the Dark Side, but he could not make his intentions known. Vader was becoming restless. While he still outwardly bowed to the Emperor’s will, it was obvious that he was having thoughts of throwing off his master’s yoke. Palpatine, with typical misdirection, assigned Vader to capture Luke Skywalker and make him a Dark Side acolyte. Vader feigned obedience, but secretly planned to take his son as an apprentice and overthrow Palpatine.
Vader’s initial attempt to trap his son failed. His prey evaded capture. Even when Vader revealed his relationship to the injured and frightened Luke, he would not turn from being a Jedi. The Sith feared they had missed their opportunity, but soon Luke Skywalker fell into their clutches once again.
Luke was haunted by the knowledge of his father’s identity and, despite being told that he must kill Vader, could not bear the thought of leaving him in the Emperor’s grip. Luke went to his father, seeking to free him from the Dark Side, but Vader delivered him to the Emperor instead. The Sith used threats and manipulation to lure Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side, but he refused to be broken. Finally, aware that Vader’s son would be of no use, Palpatine decided to execute him.
In his hate-fueled lightning attack, Palpatine’s careful work to subvert the prophecy came undone. Where Luke’s attempts at persuasion could not penetrate, his agonized screams did. Under the black helmet of Vader, Anakin Skywalker regained his senses. He saw that his life as Vader had been a lie. The power and glory he had been given had only been chains to bind him to Palpatine’s dark machinations. Unable to ignore his son’s cries for help any longer, he tore himself free of the Dark Side’s grasp, sacrificing himself to put an end to the Sith. The prophecy was finally fulfilled.
What will it take for the screams of agony break through our darkness? Who must die before we question our course?
The unique, and threatening, thing about the followers of Jesus was not that they had a new set of religious rules and mystical rituals. It was not their great speakers, enjoyable songs, or ornate buildings that scandalized their culture. It was that they lived like the world had ended. They were dead to it, and it was dead to them. Their only leader was Jesus. Their only allegiance was to the kingdom of heaven. In the world, but unaffected by its threats or bribes, they were unstoppable.
With time, and under constant pressure from the world around them, the church drifted from these early convictions. Wealth ceased being a way to help those in need, and became the measure of a person’s value. Taking salvation to sinners and outcasts was replaced with walls to keep them from contaminating us. Allowing the spirit of God to minister through every believer was replaced by a power structure that forced them into predefined offices. Following a man who sacrificed his life to offer hope to the hopeless was replaced with the mysticism and religious one-upmanship of those who crucified him.
The promise of the church has been replaced by a doctrine of manifest destiny. We want to spread the Christian label to every facet of the planet, but instead of bringing freedom, we bring enslavement. All of creation groans for reconciliation, but most often those who claim to follow Jesus are the ones making the barriers, not only between groups of people, but between people and God. Our long legacy of living like the world has built up incredible inertia. The thought of returning to the simplicity of Jesus alone threatens those who have built up their own reputations instead of his. Yet it is not only for the sake of our own souls that we must alter our course. The world desperately needs to hear, as it once did, a true message of hope that overcomes evil. It needs the return of the Jedi.