3rd Sunday of Lent, John 4:5-42
The disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
Our Savior was truly tired, hungry, and thirsty as he sat upon the well of Jacob. The Gospel narrative makes it clear that this exhaustion resulted from bodily weakness – for Christ truly did suffer in his body. However, we may question whether, beyond this bodily hunger and thirst, there may have also been a spiritual hunger in Christ. Did the Lord “thirst” spiritually? And, if he did suffer this spiritual hunger and thirst, to what was it directed? For what was our Lord thirsting when he said to the Samaritan woman, Give me to drink?
Moreover, we must carefully consider (maintaining all piety and reverence), if there be any sense in which Christ our God suffers thirst and hunger according to his divine nature. Is the Eternal Word thirsting? Does the Son of the Father hunger? And, if so, what is his food and drink?
How Christ was hungry and thirsty in his humanity
While we must assert without any hesitation that the Word truly did unite to himself a full and complete human nature, it is nevertheless something of a surprise that this nature could suffer the bodily defects of hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. What a wonder it is that God incarnate should suffer!
Christ the Lord enjoyed the beatific vision throughout his whole life, but (according to a divine dispensation) the glory of this vision remained only in the highest part of the soul and did not pass to the soul’s lower faculties, nor less to the body. Thus, it was not until after the Resurrection, when the glory of the beatific vision transformed also Christ’s body, that our Savior could no longer suffer from any physical pain, nor from hunger, thirst or exhaustion. Hence, we rightly conclude that (at Jacob’s well) Christ was hungry and thirsty in his humanity, according to a physical suffering.
Moreover, we may be so bold as to claim that Christ suffered also a spiritual hunger and thirst – for this metaphorical use of “hunger” and “thirst” denotes intense desire and hope. Our Lord surely hoped and longed for his Resurrection, but he also greatly desired the suffering by which he would redeem us. Likewise, we say that the Lord had a true hunger and thirst for righteousness – as he perfectly fulfilled all of the beatitudes. In this sense, according to his human will, Christ hungered to fulfill the will of God – which is his own divine will.
Going yet further, we will allow even that Christ the Lord suffered a spiritual hunger and thirst not only in relation to God, but even in relation to humanity. Here we recall the words of Mother Teresa (which are themselves deeply rooted in the thought of Thérèse of Lisieux), “Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.” When the Lord asks the woman at the well for a drink, he thirsts more for her salvation than for water.
This is a point which we must emphasize: Our Savior’s spiritual hunger and thirst is far more intense, and even more painful, than the physical hunger and thirst he endured. Indeed, the physical sufferings which Christ bore (terrible though they were) brought with them some degree of relief, since he knew that by his wound his hunger for our salvation would be satiated.
And, while it is true that, having risen from the dead and received his glorified body, Christ can no longer suffer any form of physical hunger or thirst; it may be possible that our Savior still has a certain type of spiritual hunger and thirst for the salvation of the world, a hunger that will not be satisfied until the end of time, when the full number of the elect shall rejoice in the glory of the Lord. We are, of course, speaking by way of analogy and according to an extended metaphor, but it may not be too much to claim that, as Christ (while still on earth) hoped and longed for his own Resurrection (the passing of glory from his soul into his body), so too even now our Savior hopes and longs for the Day of Judgment, when the glory of the Head shall pass fully into the members of his Mystical Body as they are raised incorruptible.
Could Christ hunger and thirst in his divinity?
Let us be very clear: God cannot suffer from any physical or spiritual pains. The Lord God now, always, and forever enjoys the perfect fulfillment of all beatitude – for his joy and happiness is the perfection of his own Essence. There is no sense in which we can claim any formal or literal hunger in God (not even of a spiritual sort). Thus, if we ask whether Christ hungered and was thirsty in his divinity, we seek only to discover if there be some analogous way in which we may speak of a divine hunger or a divine thirst.
We enter the realm of metaphor, leaving behind all univocity. Yet, even stressing this point – that we speak analogously and according to a figurative metaphor – there is still grave danger of blasphemy. So, again, we assert that the Almighty has no need whatsoever of any creature; therefore, he cannot be said literally to thirst or hunger (even spiritually), since this would denote a defect in God.
The divine hunger and thirst of the Eternal Word
While we assert that there can be no literal or univocal sense in which we speak of the Almighty as having “hunger” or “thirst,” we may nevertheless affirm (by a sort of analogy) that God does have a true hunger for man’s salvation. Indeed, if we separate hunger from every notion of physical defect (and even from any sense of spiritual longing) – affirming that the Lord enjoys complete fulfillment and perfection in himself – we must nevertheless assert that God truly loves humanity, indeed he loves all creation. The Love of God is such that he seeks us for our benefit, not his own – and hence, the divine hunger and the divine thirst is a desire only to quench the hunger and thirst which man has for God. This is why Christ our Savior said to the woman, If thou didst know the gift of God, and who he is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
The spiritual hunger and thirst which man has for God comes from (and is created by) the prior (and analogous) hunger and thirst which God has for man – In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
How can we fail to see this divine thirst in the words of the prophet Hosea?, Because Israel was a child, and I loved him: and I called my son out of Egypt. [...] How shall I deal with thee, O Ephraim, shall I protect thee, O Israel? [...] my heart is turned within me, my repentance is stirred up. (Hosea 11:1,8)
And what shall we say of the tenderness with which the Bridegroom claims his Bride who fills his hunger and quenches his thirst?, I am come into my garden, O my sister, my spouse, I have gathered my myrrh, with my aromatical spices: I have eaten the honeycomb with my honey, I have drunk my wine with my milk. (Canticles 5:1)
Does the Son hunger for his Father?
Finally, we consider whether the Son (in his divinity) may be said to hunger for the Father. To put the matter more clearly: Does the divine Son receive his divinity from the Father?
On this point, with some trepidation, we look to the early Christian theologian, Origen of Alexandria. Obviously, there is grave danger in citing Origen’s thought, especially in regards to Trinitarian theology – since is it quite certain that his doctrine entails a form of subordinationism (claiming that the Son is less than the Father). However, in commenting on this verse, the Catechist of Alexandria offers some insight.
Origen carefully considered Christ’s words, I have meat to eat, which you know not. [...] My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work. (John 4:31,33) It seems that the Word of God not only receives his daily sustenance from God in his humanity, but that there may be a sense in which it can be rightly said that, in his divinity, the Son receives his meat from the Father.
The Son is God, precisely as begotten of the Father. The Father is God, precisely as begetting the Son. Yet, from the Forth Lateran Council, we know that the Divine Essence does not beget, nor is it begotten. Hence, we must affirm that there is no “God” outside of the Father who generates, the Son who is generated, and the Spirit who proceeds from both. There is no Divine Essence which is behind or above these Three, but the Essence is the Persons, as the Persons are the Essence – God is the Three and the Three are God.
Now, the Son is God as begotten of the Father, but the Father is God as begetting the Son. Thus, the Son is passive in his relation to the Father, while the Father is active in his relation to the Son – the Father gives, while the Son receives. Hence, it is proper (by way of analogy) to speak of the Son as having a hunger and thirst for the Father, though one ought not to consider the Father as hungering or thirsting for the Son.
And, as the Relations in the Most Blessed Trinity are the cause of all created relations, it may not be too much to claim that the hunger which the Son has for his Father is incomparably greater than the hunger which man has for God, including even the hunger which the Man Christ has for God his Father. This divine hunger and thirst, that mysterious and ineffable interchange between the Father and the Son, could this be the very Person of the Holy Spirit?