The Householder and the Prodigal Son

Return of the Prodigal Son ~ Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn ~1668

Yesterday’s Gospel (Matthew 20:1-16)

20 The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.

And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing in the market place idle.

And he said to them: Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.

And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner.

But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle?

They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard.

And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first.

When therefore they were come, that came about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.

10 But when the first also came, they thought that they should receive more: and they also received every man a penny.

11 And receiving it they murmured against the master of the house,

12 Saying: These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heats.

13 But he answering said to one of them: Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny?

14 Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee.

15 Or, is it not lawful for me to do what I will? is thy eye evil, because I am good?

16 So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.

Today’s Gospel (Luke 15:11-24)

11 And he said: A certain man had two sons:

12 And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.

13 And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously.

14 And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.

15 And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him.

17 And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger?

18 I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee:

19 I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

20 And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son.

22 And the father said to his servants: Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry:

24 Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

I’ve always been fascinating by these readings, and not a little bit uncomfortable.  Whenever I would hear these readings, I knew they were correct, but I often had a hard time wrapping my head around them (for one I didn’t fully understand them) and then I believe it was last year during a sermon, the priest stated that most people think this way about these readings.  People become upset because they seem so unfair.  What he said next changed these readings for me forever.  He said, most people find these to be unfair because they identify with the Prodigal Son’s brother and they identify with those workers who were hired early in the morning.  Only, most people, most of us, are not the brother or those hired early.  Rather, we are the late hire and much like the son.

This was like a slap right upside the head.  After a few moments a welcome slap, but a slap nonetheless.

Now, when I read these passages, and I feel that same unfairness, that uncomfortableness I remind myself just who I truly am and to be utterly grateful for Our Lord’s mercy.

I think there is a whole lot more in these passages that can be fleshed out.  There is so much in such short parables.  What are your thoughts?

6 thoughts on “The Householder and the Prodigal Son

  1. I’ve never thought about it from that perspective before either, but that makes a lot of sense as well. Charity.

    Also, I remember hearing somewhere, thought I can’t remember where, that it is implied that the Prodigal’s sons brother was a discontent. That, while he followed his fathers rule, he did so in a manner of ungratefulness. That he did so simply to get his due rather than out of love. That is a lot to think about as well.


  2. Yes, charity lies at the heart of it. Both stories deal with Entitlement, which is at its heart an expression of Avarice- the vice in opposition to Charity. The purpose of both parables is to expose our own sense of entitlement, and to recognize it for what it is, that we might serve to correct it. Each has a more specific context, of course, but to address either would be worth a post, a full homily even, of itself.


  3. Donal,

    I’d say charity and humility lie at the heart of it. They probably lie at the heart of just about everything. I’ve always seen the charity of the householder and the Father, but I had come to think of them as Jesus, so I had begun to think of them as out of my reach again.

    For such short and seemingly straight forward parables, I think there is so much to them. Greed, entitlement, love, forgiveness, strength and weakness, humility, possibly despair, pride, hope, truth (didst thou not agree with me for a penny?) and so much more.


  4. To tie it to today’s gospel, we must remember that not only Prodigal sons return, but demons, sins, and faults as well. A demon leaves and comes back to an empty house, orderly and lacking any fulfillment with God. The Holy Spirit was not asked to enter, and the heart is neat, desolate of charity, and ready for sin. Should we not have the charity to welcome home, and the return of life, of prodigal sons, we will fall to sin instead, and be worse than we were before.

    Remember, it is not those to whom Christ was born, having come into their lives in the womb and being given suck at the breasts of prayer and mortification at only the early age, but those who hear his word and follow it till the end of their lives. The Jewish people thought they would persevere merely from being the chosen people, whom gave birth and nourishment to Christ and were foretold to do so. They left their holy places empty of God in their hearts and God turned to the Gentiles. Let not us Catholics, stewards of the truth and salvation, fall into the same error. Just because the truth is born in the church, does not mean it dwells in our hearts. Let us persevere in saying we are unworthy, please God give thy servants mere scraps to give us life, and find contentment in humbly accepting the love of God and serving him till the end of this pilgrimage


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