Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gospel of Matthew: And Afterwards He Was Hungry

Matthew 4:1-2

This is a meaning I never would have given to that text ... but boy it sure makes sense. And gives me a whole new perspective on Jesus' time in the desert since I'd always thought of Jesus' fast as a penitential act.
Jesus is not immediately tested by the devil. First he fasted for forty days and forty nights. Forty is a biblical round number indicating an extended period. It is not obvious why Jesus fasted. Jews fasted when too grief stricken to eat, but Jesus had nothing to mourn. Jews fasted also as an act of penitence, but Jesus hardly needed to do penance for his sins. Fasting had become a pious practice for many Jews, and Jesus approved of such fasting if done properly (6:16-18). Yet during his public ministry Jesus apparently neither fasted (11:18-19) nor required his disciples to fast (9:14). Perhaps Matthew's choice of words provides a clue to the nature of Jesus' fast: Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. This expression echoes Exodus's account of Moses being in God's presence on Mount Sinai. Moses stayed there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, without eating any food or drinking any water" (Exod 34:28). If one could be too grief stricken to eat, so might  one be so caught up in the presence of God that no thought is given to matters like eating. I interpret Jesus' fasting as a by-product of his communion with God, after God declared him to be his beloved Son (3:17). I also interpret Matthew's next words in this light: and afterwards he was hungry. Jesus was not aware of hunger during his time of communion with his Father but afterwards noticed that he was hungry.

For reflection: How do I understand the purpose of Jesus' fast?
My review is here of Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life by George Martin.

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