Jesus died penniless. The Roman soldiers cast lots to divide among themselves Jesus’ only possession – the clothes on his back. Jesus looked at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor.”
Jesus died hungry. There is no record that Jesus had anything to eat on the day of his death. The Last Supper on Thursday evening may well have been Jesus’ last meal. He died on the cross on Friday with an empty stomach. Looking at his disciples he said, “Blessed you who are hungry now.”
Jesus died weeping. After the Last Supper Jesus headed for the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed and he wept. He told his disciples, “You are blessed when you weep.”
Jesus died a hated man. Caiaphas, the religious authority in Israel, called him a blasphemer. The crowds wanted a murderer freed before they would see Jesus pardoned. His disciples deserted him. Looking at his disciples he said, “Blessed are you when men hate you on account of me.”
The Beatitudes that Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:17, 20-26) are a wonderful description of what the disciples of Jesus are supposed to be like: “Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are you who are poor.”
At first sight, the Beatitudes seem to turn everything upside down. At second sight, you realize that they turn everything right side up. At first they seem impossible to do. The second time you read them, nothing else seems possible.
In the Beatitudes Jesus seems to be glorifying poverty, hunger and sadness. It is important to note two things that Jesus is doing when he teaches the Beatitudes. The first is that Jesus turns away from the crowd and teaches the Beatitudes directly to his disciples. His teaching is directed at his disciples, the ones who have already made a choice to follow him.
The second point in the Beatitudes is that Jesus does NOT say, Blessed are the poor. Listen carefully as Jesus says, “Blessed are YOU who are poor.” He is directing his words at his disciples who have already left everything to follow him.
Jesus is talking to the disciples who are now poor. They are the ones who have worked months and months without a paycheck. They would go days being hungry with nothing in their stomachs. In Matthew 12:1 his disciples are so hungry they picked some heads of grain on the Sabbath to eat. They were starving and could not wait for the Sabbath to pass or the grain to become bread.
The disciples, I am sure, wept on many occasions and were hated by many people because of their allegiance to Jesus. The Beatitudes are not an instruction of how to live. They are commendations for how the disciples are already living. They left their family, home, and job to serve him and Jesus is saying how proud he is of them. “Blessed are you disciples of mine who have given up family, friends, home and career and have become poor and hungry for my sake and the sake of the Kingdom.”
One day in class the teacher held up a stone and asked her class, “To what kingdom does this belong?” They responded: “Mineral.” She then pointed to a flower and asked, “To what kingdom does that flower belong?” They responded: “Plant.” She then pointed to a bird sitting on a ledge outside the window and asked: “To what kingdom does that bird belong?” They responded: “Animal.” She then asked her class: “To what kingdom do you and I belong?”
This is a most profound question for students, disciples, and you and me to think about and to answer.
There was once a very rich and successful entrepreneur in New York. He clawed his way to the very top of the New York financial world by being ruthless. He continually instructed his managers, his lawyers and his accountants to do whatever it took to make him a lot of money, and they did.
At the age of 23 he was a millionaire. By the age of 50 he was a billionaire, the first person to ever achieve that status. When he was asked, “How much is enough for you?” he replied, “Just more than I have right now.” A day never passed that he was not meeting with his lawyers. He was fighting more cases in court than anyone else in the country. Every decision he made and every relationship he had in life was tailored to create more personal power and wealth.
At the age of 53 he became ill, very ill. His entire body was racked with pain. He developed alopecia and lost all of his hair. He took to wearing wigs, but they became a spectacle. The world’s only billionaire could buy anything he wanted, but he could only digest milk and crackers.
An associate of his wrote, “He could not sleep, he would never smile and nothing in life meant anything to him.” After numerous visits, exams and tests, the best doctors in the world told him that at the age of 53, he would die within the next year. That year passed agonizingly slow.
As he approached the very end of his life, he awoke one morning with the vague remembrance of a dream. He could barely recall the dream but he knew it had something to do with his not being able to take any of his successes or possessions with him to the next world. The man who could control the business world suddenly realized that he was not in control of his own life. All he had left in this world – was a choice. He made the choice to be a disciple and to follow Jesus. God Alert
The next day he called in his managers, attorneys and accountants. He announced to them that we wanted to channel his assets to hospitals, research, mission work and churches. On that day John D. Rockefeller established his foundation. As a result of the new direction of his life, discoveries were made of penicillin, cures for strains of malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria. The list of discoveries, hospitals and churches around the world is enormous. God Provide
After he had made his choice, Rockefeller found out that one of his executives had made an error that cost the company $2 million. One of the other executives of the company wound up having to go into Rockefeller’s office concerning this matter. Rockefeller had a history of blowing his stack over a matter far less than $2 million.
“I know you heard about the $2 million loss we just incurred,” said Rockefeller. The executive was waiting for him to explode as he always did over such matters. “Well, I’ve been sitting here listing all of this man’s good deals. I’ve discovered that in the past he has made many more times over the amount he just cost us. His successes far outweigh this one loss. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?” A new John D. Rockefeller had been born, a disciple of the Lord. God Nod
The most amazing part of the Rockefeller story is that the moment he began to give back much of what he had earned, his body chemistry changed so significantly that he got better. He was told by the best doctors that money could buy that he would die at 53. He lived until he was 98 years old.
John D. Rockefeller died in 1937. His net worth was $340 billion in today’s dollars. This is three times what Jeff Bezos is worth today. One of the last things that John D. Rockefeller said was:
“I have made millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”