I’ve been struck recently by verse 16: “He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.”
No one gave him anything.
In a performance, would I say that with a question in my voice? With horror? With emphasis on the “him” — implying they gave to others? With emphasis on the “anything” — implying that these citizens of a far country are not giving him for free any kindness, water, food, clothes, anything? The emphasis on “no one” — not one person so much as gave him a smile of pity? Or how about disbelief — does this seem over the top and even self-pity to anyone else? Could the prodigal son, who missed all the cues of his own father’s love, missed the kindness of strangers? I could say it with disbelief in my voice. Perhaps the prodigal son, since he spent his money on dissolute living and not, presumably, on charity, does not even recognize a helping hand or a kindness now.
Or perhaps he has traveled so far that this “far country” does not follow the Abrahamic rules of charity to aliens in the land, the poor, the suffering? The Hebrew testament is full of these rules; it was expected, common decency. Would the listener be reminded that although Jesus eats with sinners, sinners too were to be treated with common decency? No one had to earn the right to be given bread. In fact, the sinners should be welcomed and encouraged to stop sinning, yes?
No one gave him any thing — maybe this, if not over the top, was the trigger for the prodigal son to “come to himself” in the next verse. Like a collage of memory scenes in a movie, he suddenly realizes: in my father’s land, we give those dying of hunger some soup. We have generous bread for even servants. He came to himself, maybe, not just because of the hunger but because of the contrast in cultures.
He starts the long trek home, one step at a time, leaving the pigs to eat their pods. And as soon as his father sees him, he is given all he needs, and he finds more love than he could ever have expected.