Saturday, February 27, 2016

Wake Up and Come Home: Homily on the Prodigal Son, the Elder Brother, and the Forgiving Father

1 Cor. 6: 12-20
Luke 15: 11-32
            Family relationships shape us all profoundly.  Our sense of what it means to love and to be loved, of how we should treat others and what we should expect from others, is shaped by our relationships with those who cared for and guided us in our formative years, as well as by those with whom we share our lives today.  For good, bad, or somewhere in between, our family members are part of who we are.     
         It is not surprising, then, that the Lord told a story about a father with two sons in today’s gospel lesson.  The Church calls today the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in order to help us see more clearly who we are in relation to our Heavenly Father as we prepare for Lent.  For no matter how far we have run away from our identity as the beloved children of God, He desires our restoration.  He runs to greet the repentant sinner and welcomes us back into the family.
            Certainly no one in that time and place would have expected the father in the story to do anything like that.  Even the prodigal son himself asked only to become a servant in his father’s house, for he knew what he had done by asking for his inheritance.  He had basically told his father that he meant nothing to him but a source of money.  And since the old man would not hurry up and die, he wanted his inheritance so that he could have nothing more to do with him ever again.  Perhaps the father knew that the son needed to learn from the consequences of his tragic mistakes. So he gave him the money, which the son quickly wasted in partying and immorality.  Soon no one treated him like a son, but instead like a lowly servant so miserable that he would have happily eaten the slop fed to the pigs. 
            At that point, the young man came to himself and realized what he had done and how wretched he was.  He knew that he had dealt a fatal blow to his relationship with his father, but maybe the old man would still receive him back as a servant.  As he came close to the house, however, the young man was amazed to see his father running out to greet him and then to restore him fully as his son.  He did not speak a critical word to the young man, but only showed him love and rejoiced that a lost son had returned home, that one who was dead to him had been restored to life.    
            As we prepare for Lent, we must learn from this parable that there are no limits to our Lord’s mercy, no restrains on His compassion or forgiveness for those who humbly take the journey home.  Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is the Second Adam Who came to restore us as the children of God, as those created in the divine image and likeness. Consequently, we must not avoid repentance out of fear that God will reject us, that we alone are somehow so wicked that He would never welcome us back.  Remember that the Father is not a harsh, stern, hateful judge who is out to get us.  Likewise, the Son did not come to condemn and punish, but to save.   He accepted and blessed everyone who came to Him in humble repentance during His earthly ministry, including corrupt tax-collectors, a woman caught in adultery, Gentiles, the demon-possessed, and His own apostles who had denied and abandoned Him.   Christ even prayed for the forgiveness of those who nailed Him to the Cross. His mercy will extend to us also if we will turn to Him from the depths of our hearts.
           This familiar parable should make us uncomfortable, for it reveals truths that we would rather not acknowledge.  Namely, we are all prodigal sons and daughters, having foolishly rejected our true identity as God’s beloved children.  We have all placed pride and self-centered desire before preserving a proper relationship with our Father and our brothers and sisters. And as a result, we have all made ourselves and others miserable in ways large and small.
            St. Paul knew that the children of God are called to blessedness, not misery.  That is why he reminded the Corinthians that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit.  In every dimension of our existence, Christ calls us to holy joy, not to self-indulgence that alienates us from Him and even from our true selves. That was what happened to the prodigal son.  After abandoning his father and family for the love of money, he was so addicted to pleasure that he ended up literally in a pig sty with no human dignity at all. And since the Jews considered pigs to be unclean, the Lord makes clear that this fellow had truly hit rock bottom.
            Perhaps we cannot imagine something like that happening to us, but we must be careful not to minimize the gravity of even what appear to be small sins.  For the more comfortable that we get in choosing ourselves over God and neighbor, the less attuned we will be to how what we say, think, and do every day weakens us in our ability to live faithfully. The subtle temptations are often the most dangerous.  We can ruin any human relationship through a settled habit of self-centeredness or thoughtlessness, no matter how insignificant and ordinary our words and deeds may seem.  The same is true in our relationship with the Lord.
When we do that, we essentially ask for our inheritance and then use God’s blessings however we please.  We end up living as though God were dead, as though He were no longer our Father and we were no longer His children. If it is not clear that our passions put us all at risk for such an outcome, then we desperately need the spiritual disciplines of Lent to help us come to our senses.  If we do not recognize ourselves in the prodigal son, then we really need to wake up and put ourselves in the place where we can begin the journey home to the Father.   Otherwise, we will end up in a pig sty of one kind or another, enslaved to our sins and with no dignity or holy joy.
            There is another character in the parable for us to consider also.  The elder brother refused to join in the celebration for his brother’s return.  He complained that the father had never thrown a big party for him, even though he had always obeyed him. When the father referred to the prodigal as “your brother,” the elder brother would only call him “this son of yours.”  Apparently, he no longer viewed him as a brother.
            The irony is that, at the end of the parable, the prodigal has been restored to a right relationship with his father, but the elder brother has become estranged from them both.  He refused to share in his father’s joy and to accept the return of the prodigal. He shut himself out of the celebration. We do not know the outcome of the story, but countless family relationships have ended over much less. 
            Remember that the Lord told His disciples to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” especially in loving enemies. (Matt. 5:48) The elder brother fell short of the father’s perfect love in this parable, and his attitude is just as dangerous as the actions of the prodigal, if not more so.  Like the Pharisee who praised himself in the temple and condemned the tax collector, this man boasted of being the perfect son and viewed himself as far superior to his erring brother.        
             When we remember how Christ defined sins such as murder and adultery, it should be clear that no one is in the position of being a self-righteous judge, for our hearts are not pure.  (Matt. 5:21ff.) We need Lent in order to wake ourselves up from the prideful illusion that we are already perfect and thus somehow justified in holding grudges and refusing to be reconciled with our enemies, even if they are our own spouses, parents, children, or siblings.  
Both the prodigal and the elder brother needed to be reconciled with their father.  The same is true of each and every one of us this Lent.  We will gain the spiritual strength to do so through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other spiritual disciplines.  These are tools to help us come to ourselves, to wake us up and lead us back to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.  No matter whether we identify more with the older or the younger son, our Lord’s calling to us is essentially the same: Come home and join in the great celebration of the Heavenly Kingdom.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Call to Humility: Homily for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee in the Orthodox Church

When we hear the gospel passage about the Pharisee and the Publican, we know that Great Lent is not far away.  We are now in the first Sunday of the Lenten Triodion, the pre-Lent period when we begin to prepare for the spiritual journey of repentance and renewal that will soon begin.  This year Lent begins on March 14; so it’s time to get ready.

The first thing that the Church reminds us of in the pre-Lent period is the danger of pride, of raising ourselves up too high.  That’s what the Pharisee did.  He followed all the laws of his religion.  He prayed, fasted, and gave alms.  But he fell into the self-righteous judgment of others.  Standing prominently in the Temple, he actually thanked God that he was better than other people:  extortioners, the unjust, adulterers, and even the tax-collector who happened to be in the Temple that day also. He exalted himself, but God humbled him, for the Lord did not accept his prayer and he went home unjustified.
But the complete opposite was true of the tax-collector also known as the publican.  Like Zacchaeus, this man was a traitor to his own people and a thief who made his living by charging more than was required in taxes and keeping the difference for himself.  Unlike the Pharisee, he was not proud of himself; instead, he was ashamed.  So much so that he would not even raise his eyes up to heaven, but beat his breast in mourning for his sins, saying only “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  He humbled himself, but God exalted him, for the Lord accepted his prayer and he went home justified.
As we begin to prepare for the year’s most intense time of spiritual discipline, we must keep this gospel text squarely in mind.  For it is possible to pray, fast, and give alms in ways that do us more harm than good.  It is possible to view these and other good deeds as our own accomplishments that somehow raise us high in our own eyes and become a justification for looking down on others.  It is possible to think that God is some kind of score keeper who gives us points for good behavior such that we save ourselves by obeying the rules.
Well, the Pharisee followed all the rules, but completely missed the point.  The publican broke all the rules, but still opened his heart and soul to the mercy of God.  That’s because he got the key point:  namely, that God’s mercy is never earned or deserved; that we never impress God or earn His blessings by anything that we do; that we share in the life of our Lord by His mercy, which we receive through the true humility of repentance.
For that is the one saving virtue of this tax-collector:  he humbly confessed the truth about where he stood before God.  “Be merciful to me a sinner,” the man said with a bowed head and beating his breast in sorrow for the mess that he had made of his life.  He humbled himself; he made no defense or excuse for anything; he hid nothing and threw Himself completely upon the mercy of the Lord.
Our spiritual journey in Lent should be focused on becoming like this humble, repentant publican.  But in order to do that, we have to have to stop being Pharisees, which is hard for many of us.  After all, we are respectable people who go to church and lead what appear to be upright lives.  We also pray, fast, give alms, and do other good deeds.  And we have to admit that, at least from time to time, we look down upon others.  We criticize and judge them, magnifying their weaknesses and ignoring our own.  Though we may not pray with the self-righteous boldness of the Pharisee, we sometimes come close in our thoughts, words, and deeds concerning other people.
If we allow that spirit of pride into our Lenten observances, we will do more harm than good to ourselves.  It would be better not to fast, pray, and give alms than to do so in ways that lead us to worship ourselves and condemn other people.  The worst criminals have more hope for receiving God’s mercy than those who convince themselves that they are perfect, that they are so exalted that they are justified in pronouncing judgment on others.  That’s why the publican went home justified, but the Pharisee did not.
As we begin to discern how we will pray, fast, give alms, and undertake other spiritual disciplines this Lent, I hope that we will all remember that these blessed practices are wonderful teachers of humility.  It’s all too familiar for most of us.  We set out to pray and our mind wanders.  We try to fast and we immediately want to stuff ourselves with rich and delicious food.  We set out to give even a small amount to the needy or the church and are overwhelmed with our financial worries or desire to buy things we don’t really need.  We do our best to forgive, but some painful memories still come on strong.  We intend to read the Bible or help a neighbor, but end up falling prey to our old habits.
When we struggle in these ways this Lent, we should take heart, for we are in the perfect place to open ourselves to the mercy of Jesus Christ.  When we acknowledge that we are weak and self-centered, we gain at least some of the spiritual clarity of the publican who knew that he had nothing to brag about, who knew that he had failed spiritually and morally in life, who knew that his only hope was in the mercy of God who stopped at nothing to bring healing and forgiveness to sinners.   He said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  This must be our constant prayer when the disciplines of Lent reveal truths about us that we don’t like, that are uncomfortable and depressing, and we are tempted simply to give up.
Even worse, we may be tempted to the fantasy world of the Pharisee, who was blind to his own weakness, his imperfection, his sinfulness.  The sad reality is that it’s really not very hard to lie to ourselves and even to God.  It may seem easier and less painful than admitting the truth.  But the more self-righteous dishonesty we allow into our souls, the weaker and more confused we become; and the harder it is for us ever to escape from self-imposed slavery to our own lies and delusions.
The fourth-century saint Macarius was a monk in the Egyptian desert.  Satan once complained to him, “Macarius, I suffer a lot of violence from you, for I cannot overcome you.  Whatever you do, I do also.  If you fast, I eat nothing; if you keep watch, I never sleep.  There is only one way in which you surpass me:  your humility.  That is why I cannot prevail against you.”
Let us all use this Lent to grow in the one characteristic that will enable us to overcome all the temptations of evil:  humility.  Fasting, almsgiving, prayer, forgiveness, and all the other spiritual disciplines are of no use at all without it.  But with true humility, they shine brightly with the light and holiness of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Even if we are lousy at fasting, inattentive in prayer, and inept at forgiving others, there will still be hope for us in the Lord who justified a rotten, crooked tax-collector,  a man who acknowledged the sad truth about himself and called from the depths of his being for mercy.  Like him, we must humble ourselves.  Like him, we must make no excuses.  Like him, we must judge no one but ourselves.  If we do so, we—also like him—will return to our own homes justified, not by our good deeds, but by the unfathomable mercy of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus.   May this be the outcome of our Lenten journey this year.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

From Pagan Idolatry to a Temple of the Living God: Homily for the 17th Sunday After Pentecost and the 17th Sunday of Matthew in the Orthodox Church

2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1; Matthew 15:21-28
       When our daughter Kate was preparing to begin college, she was interested in studying ancient Greek.  A professor in that field at her university told her, however, that because she would be a freshman and had not studied Latin, Greek would be too hard for her.  I knew immediately what the outcome of that conversation would be:  Kate would take Greek and make an A, if only to prove him wrong.  Looking back on it, I suspect that that old professor knew exactly what he was doing in responding to her question that way.  He was recruiting Kate by challenging her.
Our Lord took a similar approach to the Canaanite woman. She was a Gentile with a demon-possessed daughter and surely desperate for help.  So she called out to the Jewish Messiah, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”   He did not answer her other than to say that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to the Jews.  But she had such love for her daughter and deep humility before Christ that she knelt before Him and begged for help.  That was when Christ spoke what sounded like very harsh words:  “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  In other words, God’s blessings are for the chosen people of the Old Testament, the Jews, not for people like her.  The woman did not respond with anger, but showed an amazing level of spiritual insight:  “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”    Then Christ praised the woman’s faith and healed her daughter.
In order to understand this conversation, we have to remember that the Jews of that time typically believed that God’s blessings were for the Jews to the exclusion of the rest of the world.  This Gentile woman knew enough about Christ to call Him “Son of David,” a Jewish term for the Messiah, and that He was a healer.  But by the end of the conversation, it is clear that she has a faith in Christ, and an understanding of Him, that surpasses that of the disciples.  For she knows that in Jesus Christ God’s blessings extend to all people who call on Him with humble faith, that in Him the crumbs of the table of Abraham spill over to feed and bless the whole world.
The Lord’s harsh words to her are a teaching tool to help her and the disciples see the truth about God’s salvation.  When pushed and tested by His challenging comments, this Canaanite woman showed that she knew the message of the Scriptures even better than the Jews, for God had told Abraham that through him and his family all the nations of the world would be blessed.  (Gen. 22:18) Hebrew prophets also envisioned the day when all the nations would come to the mountain of the Lord.  (e.g., Isaiah 2:2-3) And now in Jesus Christ, Jew and Gentile alike become God’s beloved children and living participants in His holy temple.
The  Savior’s apparent delay in healing her daughter is also a teaching tool designed to strengthen her faith, to bring her belief in Him to maturity.  Who has not had to learn important lessons through patience, by having to persist in getting what we want?   The same is true for this woman.   Her final insight in this conversation is like that of St. Simeon when the forty-day old Christ is presented in the Temple:  “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word.  For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people:  A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32) Simeon’s life of patient waiting for the Messiah came to fulfillment when he held the baby Jesus in his arms in the Jerusalem Temple.  God’s anointed, the Savior, had finally come.  How unexpected that a lowly Canaanite woman would proclaim the same spiritual truth as St. Simeon, a righteous Jew.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who were also Gentiles, to remind them that in Christ they are “the temple of the living God” and must live accordingly, separating and cleansing “themselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and mak[ing] holiness perfect in the fear of God.”  ( 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1) We know from the situations he addressed in his letters to the Corinthians that many of them still lived in the profoundly corrupt ways of their pagan culture.  He had to set them straight in no uncertain terms about gross sexual immorality, idolatry, prideful divisions, and many other matters. He told them to hold themselves and one another to a high standard because they were no longer strangers and outcasts, but living members of the Body of Christ.
St. Paul had been a zealous Pharisee before his conversion, and we can be sure that he would never have expected holiness from Corinthians or Canaanites. But the Risen Lord opened his eyes to the truth that the distinction between Jew and Gentile has become irrelevant, for all who have faith in Him become the blessed descendants of Abraham and the beloved sons and daughters of the Father.
In Christ, holiness no longer has to do with steering clear of people from different backgrounds, cultures, or beliefs.  It has nothing to do with racial, ethnic, or national purity.  The Canaanite woman demonstrates that even Israel’s most hated historic foes may have faith and be set free from evil by the mercy of Christ.  If that is true for them, it is true for all.  The Lord calls everyone to become a holy temple and a living member of Christ’s own Body.
The kind of holiness to which Christ calls us does not have to do with simply going through the motions of legal requirements, such as circumcision or dietary restrictions.  He invites us to a higher righteousness that purifies the heart and nips in the bud the disordered desires that so easily take root there and lead to murder, adultery, and other actions that are the complete opposite of the blessedness for which He created us in His image and likeness.   (Matt. 5:8, 20, 21-30) We all have so much work to do in purifying our own hearts that we should not waste our energy in making ultimate judgments on the holiness of others.  When we are tempted to do that, we must remember that God alone knows people’s hearts, including our own.
We will not grow in the divine likeness by defining ourselves over against others such that we congratulate ourselves for not doing X, Y, or Z.  We will not become a more faithful living temple of the Lord by viewing anyone or any group as the Gentiles or Canaanites of our lives.  We should always remember that we are the spiritual descendants of the Canaanite woman and the confused Corinthians.  There is much about us that is a stranger to holiness, that would rather serve the false gods of the world than the world’s true God.  So we must struggle to embrace the holiness of the Lord to the depths of our souls by deep, humble, persistent repentance.  There is no alternative to doing the hard work of removing from our lives those things that are not holy.  That is much more of a challenge than simply praising ourselves in comparison with the appearance of others.
We must focus, instead, on removing from our thoughts, words, and deeds those things that keep us from living as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”  (1 Peter 2:9)  Doing so is never a simple matter of doing what is popular, conventional, or comfortable.  It requires purifying the heart, for it is by Christ’s presence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that we are His living temple.  (Gal. 4:6) We must attend to what we allow into our hearts, to what we allow to fill our minds and souls. If we devote our time and attention to anything, it will become what we love and shape profoundly who we are. We can do that for good or bad, for holiness or for something entirely different.
If today you feel as far from God as the Jews thought the Canaanites were, remember that distraught mother who found blessing for the one she loved most through her humble, persistent faith.  We may use our difficult struggles in life to help us become more like her, even as the Lord’s challenging words prodded her to know and speak the truth so eloquently.  We may devote our time, energy, and attention to the common and simple practices through which broken people have always opened themselves to the healing mercy of Christ.  We may grow in holiness and turn away from sin and corruption by reorienting ourselves step by step to the Savior Who has made great saints out of sinners from every nation, Who has restored those wounded by sins of every kind, Who has made holy temples out of the most depraved persons.  In Him, there is hope even for you and me.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Investing our Lives and Talents for the Kingdom: Homily for the 16th Sunday of Matthew and the 16th Sunday After Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 25:14-30
          When the stock market goes up or down, almost everyone hears about it and many pay attention.  But those who have money invested in the stock market really take notice.  The reason for their interest is clear:  their wealth just went up or down.  And people do not usually invest in order to shrink their assets; no, they want them to grow.
          Today’s gospel reading presents a similar situation  Three servants received large sums of money, called talents, from their master when he went away on a long journey.   He was a shrewd businessman and expected them to make the most of what he had entrusted to them.  One invested so wisely that his five talents turned into ten.  The one given two talents did the same and earned two more.  They both doubled their money and earned the praise of their master when he returned.  But the third servant, who had only one talent to invest, was not such a good steward.  Out of fear that he might lose what little he had, he simply buried the money in the ground and produced nothing at all. The master scolded him for not even putting the money in the bank and earning interest.  So he took away his talent and gave it to the first servant. Near the end of the parable, we read that “to everyone who has, more will be given and he will have abundance, but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
          Jesus Christ used this story about investing money as a reminder of the importance of being a productive steward of all that God has given us.  Life itself and all our blessings and abilities come from the Lord.  Ever since He created us in His image and likeness, He has called us to invest ourselves in ways that enable us to flourish as His sons and daughters.  He invites us to an abundant life that bears fruit for the Kingdom, blesses others, and radiates the light of holiness throughout the world.
          Most of us probably wonder, however, whether that is really possible for us.  Perhaps we are so consumed by the practical challenges of just making it through the day that we find it difficult to imagine that our struggles could have any larger significance.  Maybe we think that only what rich, powerful, and famous people do really impacts the world in meaningful ways.  Perhaps we imagine that holiness is a possibility only for people with no problems or who have never done anything wrong.  It may be that our previous efforts to grow in faithfulness have been somehow disappointing or frustrating, so we have given up.  I imagine that many of us identify with that cowardly servant who had so little confidence in bearing fruit that he simply buried his talent in the ground.
          That might seem like a practical response, but it is actually the opposite; it leads to nothing but weakness and loss.  Just as a person who is unable to move physically for a long period of time quickly loses muscle mass and strength, any ability, talent, or gift that we have will become weaker the less use we make of it.  Playing it safe by becoming stagnant never works.  Nothing in this life ever stays exactly the same over time, and if we are not actively using our gifts to bear fruit in whatever circumstances we face, we will end up worse off than when we started.
          What St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in today’s epistle reading applies to each of us, regardless of whether we have one or ten talents, regardless of whether we think that our present situation is especially conducive to becoming a great channel of blessing to anybody.  As St. Paul put it, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)  If we are going to be faithful stewards, we have to begin with our lives as they are now.  To wait until all is perfect and we have time, energy, and resources to spare is to fall prey to an illusion, for life in this world will never be without its challenges.  Cowardly servants will always find reasons to be afraid and to bury their talents in the ground.  The more practice that we have in doing that, the harder it will be to invest ourselves in ways that bear fruit for the Kingdom.  It is nothing but a lie and a delusion to think otherwise.
          Remember that St. Paul endured beatings, imprisonment, attempts on his life, shipwreck, and so many other difficulties before he died as a martyr.  He did not wait until life was completely peaceful and calm before serving God and blessing his neighbors.  He describes the life of the apostles “as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:10)
          We probably do not yet have the eyes to see it, but our paths are ultimately the same as his.  No matter how sad, sick, frustrated, or deprived we may be, the Lord still calls us to invest our lives in holiness for the blessing and salvation of the world.  We probably will not do that on as large or obvious a scale as St. Paul, but that is irrelevant.  The servant with only one talent was still called to be as faithful with what he had as the one who had ten.  Like it or not, we have the lives in this world that we have.  We cannot say a magic word and become someone else or change anything about the past.  We can, however, be faithful stewards of the present as we fulfill our identity as those blessed by God and called to become a blessing to others as a sign of His love, mercy, and holiness.
          No matter how much or how little money someone has, the basic principles of making a budget and planning for the future are the same.   That is also true about the life in Christ.  Regardless of the details, we will all invest ourselves for the abundant life of the Kingdom through common and familiar practices, such as:  prayer; fasting; generosity to the needy; repentance; forgiveness; reading the Scriptures, the lives of the Saints, and other spiritually beneficial writings; and doing whatever we are able to do in the service of the Church and our neighbors.  We do not have to be billionaires in order to live lives of abundant blessing or to be able to bless others in profound ways.  We do not have to be spiritual superheroes in order be faithful stewards of our talents and play our role in fulfilling God’s purposes for the world.  We simply have to offer what only we can offer to the Lord in obedience and let Him do the rest.
          Nobody else can save or invest your money; you have to do it.  Nobody else can become a faithful steward of your life and blessings; you have to do it.  The choice that we all face is whether to cower in fear of failure as we bury our talents in the ground, weaken ourselves, and refuse to do what only we can do for the healing and transformation of the world.  Or will we make a solid investment of our talents, no matter how large or small they may be, and grow in the abundant life for which God created us in His image and likeness?  Unlike financial matters, there is no difference here between those who have a lot in this world and those who do not.  The only difference is whether we will offer our humble lives to the Lord like the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  If so, then we will receive back infinitely more than what we offered in the first place.  And our life in this world, regardless of the outward details, will then become an icon of the Kingdom, producing fruit “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:8)  Now what shrewd businessperson would not want that rate of return?