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The Ultimate Boon


The Ultimate Boon is the next stage of Joseph Campbell's model of The Hero's Journey. In this stage, the hero finally accomplishes what they set out to do. It is similar to the previous stage, apotheosis, in that the hero gains something of great value. However, apotheosis is often an inner knowing of a power that was already there, and the ultimate boon is the prize they sought from the beginning of their journey. There is usually a great challenge or a guardian that stands between the hero and the ultimate boon.

In the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke had already survived the confrontation with his father, Darth Vader. He went through the apotheosis stage as he realized his true inner power as a Jedi, but that was not the ultimate boon. In order to gain peace for the empire, Emperor Palpatine had to be defeated. Often the guardian of the ultimate boon cannot be defeated with force or power, but it is a moral challenge that requires the hero to exercise the gifts they acquired along the journey. In Luke's case, he does not defeat Palpatine with his martial skills, but by winning his father over by demonstrating courage and confidence in his moral stance. Vader is won over, remembering his own journey and choosing to sacrifice his life for Luke's cause. It was this battle that led to the ultimate boon of peace for the empire.

In The Lord of the Rings, the ultimate boon is an end to the war that is only won by throwing the ring into the fiery pits of Mordor. Frodo faces the final challenge of letting go of the addictive power of the ring at the same time Gollum gives in to the temptation to take the ring back. They struggle with each other and Gollum goes down into the pit with the ring and Frodo's sacrificed finger. In the end, Frodo never had to drop the ring into the pit, the challenge to gain the Ultimate Boon is almost always altered and made easier by something that happened during the journey. In this case, the grace that Frodo showed to Gollum.

It is difficult to find a better biblical example of this stage than the resurrection of Christ. Jesus faced a challenge that looked different than everyone expected. Everyone expected the Messiah to go to war with the powers of the world and to take the reigns of Earth back from the enemy by force and power. There were whole sects of warriors who trained to be ready when the Messiah called on them, they called them zealots, and some of them were among Jesus' followers. When the soldiers came to take Jesus into captivity his followers jumped to action and Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus stopped him, healed the man's ear, and went with the soldiers peacefully. Days earlier Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as King, but then he went to die the death of a criminal. His followers were confused until he rose again and explained it to them.

C. S. Lewis wrote a great allegory of the metanarrative of the Scriptures. In that allegory, the Lion, Aslan, represents Christ. Aslan was sacrificed on a stone table, just as Christ was sacrificed on a cross. Some deep magic was at work though, and the sacrificing of Aslan broke something in the old system. Instead of winning by fighting, Aslan won through sacrifice. Here is an excerpt of Aslan explaining what happened:
"But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward."
God, as we approach the ultimate boon in our own lives, prepare us for the unexpected.  Let us acquire the skills and allies along the journey that will help us to face that final challenge, not with force, but with integrity.  Help us to not miss the moments when we can offer grace to those along our paths that may seem a hindrance in a moment but will help us become something more in the end.  Most of all, as we touch on the message of the cross, we thank you for the deep magic that you put in place before the enemy knew, we thank you for breaking the table and tearing the curtain of the temple.  We thank you that death itself started working backwards on that day.  Amen.

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