This Lenten season I’ve been struck by two lines in the gospel of Matthew.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.Matthew 4:1-2 (ESV)
After not eating for forty days, Jesus was hungry. When you read it in isolation it seems like such an understatement. My stomach is growling now, barely three hours after my last meal. He’s not just hungry, he is famished: literally, he is craving food.
We, especially those of us who call ourselves evangelicals, tend to pass right by this simple statement. We are in such a hurry to show that Jesus is divine — that he is the Son of God who came to die for our sins — that we often forget that Jesus was hungry, just as we would be after forty days with no food. Maybe this is why Lent is often downplayed in evangelical churches.
We need to stop. We need this to sink in. We need to make sure this idea is stuck into our skulls, that it jumps out at us from the text — because if we don’t grasp that Jesus was hungry, then the rest of this story doesn’t make any sense.
If Jesus was hungry, then he could really be tempted by the devil’s offer of fresh loaves of bread; then his desires could be bent into taking up the devil’s dare to leap off a tall building, or into taking the bait of bowing his knee for wealth and power. We all know that we can do uncharacteristic things when we’re hungry. In short, if Jesus was hungry, he was human.
That’s the beauty of observing Lent. It reminds us that Jesus was human, and perhaps this is nowhere so obvious as during the forty days he spends fasting in the wilderness.
Recently, I spoke with a Roman Catholic who said he likes the idea of saints. I asked him what he likes about ‘his’ saints. He said he likes their accessibility, that they are real people. There’s a longer discussion about saints that is best left for another time. But you see, this is what we are left with if we breeze by Matthew’s statement that Jesus was hungry.
It was also in Jesus’ humanity that he overcame Satan’s temptations. He didn’t scare off the devil with some extravagant divine fireworks coming from his fingers. No, he countered the devil’s Scripture-laced lies with a more wholistic picture of what the Scripture teaches.
Perhaps that is what we should be about this Lent: imitating Jesus’ time in the wilderness by taking up a thoughtful reading of Scripture. Not sure where to start? How about reading an entire book of the Bible in one sitting? Let the Scriptures shape your mind in the ways of Christ.