“…I am a Jedi like my father before me.”
When Luke Skywalker makes this statement in Return of the Jedi, it’s a high point iof his story. He’s spent most of three movies working to discover who he was and how the Force was part of his life. It wasn’t a easy journey, and he made mistakes along the way, right up to the encounter with the Emperor, but he says this like a profession of faith, as well as taking up a mission handed on by others. He was offered almost supreme power in the galaxy by the Emperor, taking his father’s place at his right hand, and turned it down. We know when he says this he’s completed his journey to become a Jedi Master.
It’s also a crazy and almost futile claim. His father, Darth Vader, turned away from the Jedi to the Dark Path. The Emperor had destroyed the Jedi, and Luke’s future looks to be very short at that moment. The Dark Side had already won, and looked unbeatable, unstoppable, and resistance seemed futile (sorry for crossing into another dimension for a moment.) What reasonable person profess a faith renounced by their father, and seemed to embrace death.
Luke almost died, but his commitment made a miracle possible. Darth Vader, thought lost forever to the Dark Side, came back to the Jedi way and struck the blow that defeated the Empire he helped build. Without Luke’s commitment to another path, his refusal to submit to the Dark Side, he never would have come back. Their galaxy was transformed because people were willing to live by the Light.
Jesus is teaching his disciples as a group for the first time in today’s Gospel reading. Like Moses, he sits on a mountain and gives them a new Law, a new way of being. The Beatitudes turn the common standards of the world upside down, a world that sees power as the path to blessing, power as the sign of God’s presence. Following ancient tradition from the Old Testament, Jesus “extols the weak to shame the strong” (as Paul said in the second reading), setting a new way of being for his followers. Everything in the New Testament flows from the Beatitudes, and every interpretation or reading of Scripture that conflicts with them should be considered suspect, at least.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote this about the Beatitudes toward the end of his life:
“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
Kurt Vonnegut, Man Without a Country
We should be posting the Beatitudes where all can see. We should be people of the Beatitudes as disciples of Christ, no matter which way the world is going, or whether the way of power seems to be winning. We should be different, even if is means it looks like we’re professing a failed faith, or choosing a path that looks like a road to oblivion. Jesus comes to us to transform us into people of the Beatitudes, knowing that not only our reward will be great in heaven, but we will be able to live like to its fullest in this world, and make it possible for God to work miracles among us.