The 2007 movie The Ultimate Gift begins with the funeral of a wealthy Texas oilman. The scene then shifts to an attorney’s office where the man’s will is being read. It is clear this family does not get along, they do not care about each other, and they obviously did not love their father and grandfather. They are gathered together only because they are eager to get their share of the money. And they all do receive the expected huge inheritances, far more money than any of them would ever need. Even so, they all leave upset and bitter because they think it should have been done differently. Finally, only one person remains in the room, a grandson named Jason. Jason is the classic spoiled rich kid. He has a bad attitude and seems to have hated his grandfather more than anyone, even blaming him for his father’s death. The attorney clearly does not like Jason, and Jason does not like anybody.
Grandpa’s wish was for Jason to be given the contents of a sealed box. The box is opened, and it contains nothing but a DVD disc. The attorney plays the disc for Jason, and it is Jason’s grandpa talking to him. Grandpa expresses his affection for Jason, and his desire to have Jason do some things before he hears about his inheritance, which may or may not be very much. No guarantees are given, except that if Jason refuses to do what he is told, there would be absolutely nothing for him.
Jason is irritated by the whole thing, but decides to do what he is told. He does not yet know that what he was told to do was only the first step of what would be a very long process. And though quite rebellious at first, Jason is drawn in toward an interest in and appreciation of what his dead grandfather is trying to tell him and do for him on this video-taped message, made in the grandfather’s dying days.
I will describe just one of the steps the grandfather had Jason accomplish. In one of the first video clips, grandpa’s task for Jason is that he must, within the next 30 days, find and return with one true friend, someone who will stick with him through anything. “Well,” thinks Jason, “that will be easy– I have lots of friends.” What Jason was not told was that the grandfather had pre-arranged that all of Jason’s credit cards would be cancelled and all his possessions taken away.
Jason had never worked and had never bought anything on his own, so he had no legal right to anything. Therefore, Jason gradually found out he was penniless. His car was towed away, he was locked out of his apartment, and his cell phone service was cancelled. His own mother was forbidden to help him or she would lose her trust account. In just a few days, Jason went from being a spoiled rich kid with lots of money and many friends, to being homeless with… guess what? No friends! Jason can no longer support all his former ‘friends,’ but now needs them; and they are unwilling to help in any way. No one will even give him a couch to sleep on, and Jason is out on the street. At the end of the 30 days, and just in time, Jason does meet someone who is willing to befriend what he has now become– a scruffy looking street person. And in that friendship with someone who is also having some troubles, Jason begins to learn some of what his grandfather was hoping to teach him.
Jason’s uncles and aunts, his mother, and his cousins all received millions of dollars at the reading of the will. Jason received a few videotaped words from his dead grandfather. But what Jason received turned out to be the best gift of all; or, as the movie title says, The Ultimate Gift.
Jesus often talked about what it means to be honored and exalted and distinguished, and, what it means to be humiliated and humbled and put in the very lowest place. Jesus was always turning our notions of greatness upside-down, as when he said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” There was also the time when the disciples were arguing about who among them would be the greatest, and Jesus quietly began to wash their feet, the job of slaves and servants. Jesus then said to them, “Which of you is greater than your master?– look at me, I am among you as one who serves, and the greatest among you is the one who serves others.”
At the beginning of the movie, the viewer might be tempted to think, “Wouldn’t it be great to inherit all that money?” But then the viewer sees how Jason begins to grow into true greatness when he is left with nothing. Jesus often spoke of the greatness of sharing what you have been given. When Jason carried credit cards without limits, he lived only for himself. But when he was left with nothing, he learned humility and how to share.
Jesus told many parables. These stories of everyday people would illustrate the truths he was teaching. The Ultimate Gift is a similar ‘parable’ on the kind of life Jesus would want us to live, and it is clear that the principles being taught by grandpa are from Jesus. Jesus even makes two or three appearances in the movie in the form of a statue in a chapel where three of the characters go for prayer. The religious message of the movie is worked in quietly and gently, but in such a way that it cannot be missed. The people go into the chapel and look to Jesus for guidance and wisdom and strength and hope. The ‘ultimate gift’ is learning to live as Jesus would have us live.
Matthew 20:16 — (Jesus said), “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Luke 22:24-27 — A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
O God, grant your people to love what you command and desire what you promise, so that, amidst the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true joy is found. Amen.
–From an ancient prayer