Matthew on being hungry
I've been studying the Gospel of Matthew since the beginning of this year. After reading through it a dozen times or so I was struck by the order of two pericopes.
At the end of Matthew 3, Jesus is baptized by John and the Spirit of God descends on him. Verse 17 says
And behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
That is the last verse of Chapter 3. Chapter 4 begins this way:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty day and forty nights, he was hungry.
Matthew seems to be satisfied with a quiet understatement.
How hungry do you get after fasting for forty days? I don't know. Really hungry. Nearly starving to death, I would guess. This story is presented directly after the Father proclaimed in front of everyone that he was pleased with Jesus. There was nothing about Jesus' person that was repugnant to the Father. He was completely pleased with Jesus' goodness and with all his conduct. The way Jesus lived his years of humanity was a delight to the Father. He fulfilled the Father's will in every way. As John Phillips observed, what a kind and gracious son, brother, friend and neighbor Jesus must have been as he grew up. Yet it was the Father's will to allow his Son to suffer by being hungry.
One helpful definition of suffering from Elisabeth Elliot is: anything that falls into the categories of "having what you don't want" or "wanting what you don't have." Of course, there are grades of suffering and Jesus went on to ultimate suffering of taking the punishment for all sin. Fasting in the wilderness was not equal to suffering on the cross but it was still suffering.
When I am "hungry" in a sense of the word where I have a perceived lack in my life, the thoughts that quickly start to creep in say things like "God must be angry at me." "God must not care." "God must not love me." But that is simply not true. At the beginning of Matthew 4 we are left with no doubt: God the Father was not angry at Jesus. He cared about him. And he allowed him to suffer. Therefore if God allows us to suffer we should not jump straight to the conclusion that God is angry or uncaring.
Taking it one step further, the Bible teaches that believers are "in Christ" (Galatians 3:26). So one might say that in Christ the Father is well pleased with us too (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even though by ourself we may not be an entirely delightful person.
I'm certain that lots of theologians who are much smarter than me can give good reasons for Jesus' rigorous testing in the wilderness. The reasons are not directly explained in the text, though. Similarly, though God no doubt has excellent reasons for allowing suffering in his children's lives those reasons may not now or ever be readily apparent. But God left no question about the fact that he was pleased with Jesus even while he allowed suffering into his life.
I thought about this a lot through the month of August. My 21 year-old SUV, which had become increasingly unreliable over the last 18 months, broke down on the highway at the very beginning of August. I felt sad when I watched my beloved Xterra get winched to a tow truck and disappear down the road. As the weeks went by I struggled with envy and dissatisfaction. The roads seemed to be crammed with sparkling new cars and trucks and yet here I had nothing.
I kept remembering what I had learned from Matthew. God loves me and he cares about me even when the days go by and a need is unfulfilled.
P.S. Weeks after these musings took shape in my mind we were able to buy a 2004 Suburban with significantly lower miles than the Xterra. It's kind of shabby and dented and dirty. I love it.