When did you last feel hungry? What you felt, medically speaking, was the effect of your gastrointestinal tract slowly emptying as sphincter muscles push food through the stomach and the small and large intestine.
It’s called the migrating motor complex, triggered by release of a hormone called motilin. Next time your tummy interrupts an important meeting by gurgling, or you feel “hunger pangs,” nod sagely and whisper, “Motilin.”
Sometimes we say, or we hear teenagers say, “I’m starving,” but few if any of us have experienced real hunger – the kind intolerably experienced daily by millions of the world’s poor in developed and under-developed countries.
That was not the case for Jesus. He felt ordinarily hungry, as we do, but I believe he also experienced real hunger. I learn this from three words that Matthew slips into chapter four of his Gospel: “He was hungry” (Matt 4:2).
This is the third of five short sentences on which we are reflecting this month. Why does Matthew want us to know that Jesus was hungry? He mentions it again in chapter 21:18 (and parabolically in chapter 25).
But here, in Matthew 4, there is a significant reason for Jesus’s hunger. He has just successfully endured a 40-day fast. Matthew says Jesus:
- was led by the Holy Spirit (not his own ego);
- into the desert (where there were no home comforts, or fast food outlets);
- where he spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting, in preparation for the start of three years of public ministry, and in preparation for a spiritual attack that was about to occur.
After the fast, and before Satan appears and unleashes that famous, archetypal three-fold temptation, which Jesus wonderfully withstands by employing Scripture as a defence, Matthew simply says, “He was hungry.”
Hunger, as I said earlier, is a physical, chemical response to withholding food. It is also a mental response, in which our brains prompt us to hunt and gather. And there’s an emotional response, revealing what masters us.
Sometimes, when we feel hungry, and don’t achieve immediate gratification, and grow irritable, it is not pretty – for us and for those around us.
Not so with Jesus, who in the face of trial and temptation possesses perfect emotional composure, entire self-mastery, and keen awareness of his purpose, context and mission. And yet, “He was hungry.”
Clearly, as the unique Son of God, as the embodiment of the eternal deity, Jesus is unique. But Matthew wants to emphasise that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us,” and also just like us apart from his capacity to bear our sins.
The fact that Jesus experienced hunger, real hunger, and its effects on a real human body, motilin and migrating motor complex and all, reminds us of who he was – and who he is.
“A Saviour not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end,” Bishop Handley Moule once wrote; while “a Saviour not quite man is a bridge broken at the nearer end,” as F. F. Bruce has remarked.
Jesus knows what it means to be human. He knows what it is like to be you. He understands the joys and sorrows, the pressures and challenges you face.
Jesus stands ready to walk beside you on your journey today. He promises to lift you up when you need it, and he invites you to draw freely from his limitless resources of grace, wisdom, compassion and comfort.
And one last thing: I love the way the biblical story draws to its grand conclusion, with all of God’s people not sitting awkwardly on clouds learning to play the harp, but seated around a table, sharing a fabulous banquet.
More of that next week, and the week after.
Lord Jesus, as we go about our work today, and this week, I ask that you remind us that you are the Bridge that enables reconciliation with God, and fellowship with God, and an abundant life.
Remind us when we feel hunger, that you too felt as we do, and lived in the same world we do. Help us to understand and treasure our solidarity with you. And lift us up when we are feeling down,
In your name we dare to pray. Amen.
Image source: CBCP News
 In addition to parallel passages, there are also other references to Jesus being hungry, such as Mark 11:12.
 Norman Anderson, The Mystery of the Incarnation (Downers Grove: IVP, 1978), 154. Original italics.