My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.
We get a more profound insight into the nature of our Lord if we contemplate the significance of His Father’s will in His life.
The twelve-year-old boy sitting in the temple was asked by His frightened mother, “My Son, why hast Thou treated us so? Think what anguish of mind Thy father and I have endured, searching for Thee!” And He answered with the astonishment of one taking something for granted: “What reason had you to search for me? Could you not tell that I must be in the place which belongs to my Father?” Already in the boy there is an interior “I must.” He had no need to reflect, “Should I do this or that?” It was: “I must.” There was a deep-seated drive in Him, which did not derive from a willed intent; it led Him, carried Him on, so that all action stemmed from inner necessity, a necessity, however, that does not preclude freedom, but rather so orders things that the free act proceeds from the ultimate core of identity. The author of this necessity is the will of the Father.
After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, we read, He was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert: “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the desert”— so says Mark with prophetic violence. Force works upon Him; illumination, compulsion, inspiration. This power, too, is the will of the Father, but under the form of the pneuma, the Spirit, which is the love of the Father. We expect to find that same overwhelming force which seized Elijah, Elisha, Habakkuk, and Daniel, turning the simple figure of a man into God’s instrument.
Jesus spoke in Capernaum. All were deeply moved and satisfied; they entreated Him to remain. But He would not, saying, “Let us go to the next country towns, so that I can preach there, too; it is for this that I have come.” Jesus knew that He was not acting from private judgment and volition, but that He was the one who had been sent. A commission lives in Him. Carrying out this commission is the content of His life. Everything serves to that end. Everything is thereby made legitimate. And this mission is, again, the will of the Father.
One day, wandering through Samaria, all weary, He sat down at Jacob’s Well. The disciples went on to the town to buy food for their meal. A woman came up to the well, and He held that memorable conversation with her concerning the new era that was now upon them, in which it was not to be upon this mountain nor that one, but “in spirit and in truth” that God was meant to be worshiped. The disciples returned: “Master, take some food!” Then He answered them as if from a long way off: “I have food to eat of which you know nothing.” Puzzled and uncomprehending, they asked one another, “Can somebody have brought Him food?” But He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.”
To hunger and thirst is the deepest need man is capable of expressing. It is part of our very nature to be hungry — hungry for that which will satisfy us for eternity. Using this elemental human need as a figure of speech, Jesus was saying that it stilled His hunger to do the will of the Father. And this was no mere allegory, indeed not, but something lived. His being hungered for the realization of His Father’s will, driving from within, demanding fulfillment.
Another passage is perhaps even more basic to this discussion. Jesus was sitting inside a house talking to the people about Him. They told Him, “Behold, Thy mother and brethren are without, looking for Thee.” And He, who knew so well who His mother was, answered from the very depths of which He drew His life, “Who is a mother, who are brethren, to me?” And looking over the circle of people about Him, He said: “If anyone does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
We must not allow these words to be interpreted as allegory, or probed psychologically anymore than the foregoing ones. The will of the Father is reality. It is like a river of life coming down from the Father to Christ — a lifestream from which he draws life, even more profoundly, more truly, and more powerfully than He draws life from His mother. And whoever is ready to do the will of the Father becomes a part of this lifestream, and this will then pulses through him from the heart of the Father, and he is united to the life of Christ more truly, more deeply, and more strongly than the way in which Christ was united to His mother.
The will of the Father is most precious, the very highest, so that He gives care and concern for it to those who belong to Him. That God’s will be done is the concern of the Christian. It is expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, and should be expressed in the Christian’s whole attitude toward life.
This will of the Father is a power in Jesus, a satisfying of hunger, a fulfillment; but it is no coercion. The Father’s will does not bind in a spell. There is no question of hypnotic suggestion, no forcible constraint, and no being pushed and bent without any proper will. The will of the Father speaks to Jesus, and in His freedom, He receives it.
We can share this experience in that darkest hour when He is in Gethsemane, face-to-face with this will in all the terror of what it requires of Him: “My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” This is the encounter of the two Persons: no spell, no dark and compelling force is at work here, but rather an appeal and a comprehension. It is so much so that it is expressed in the form of a contradiction: “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt” — from there to come together in the deepest, holiest unity, in which the will of the Father is completely taken up in His own; His will ascends completely into the will of the Father.
And it is like a last, beatific expression of His interior life when He says, “I will always do the will of my Father.” This enables us to look deeply into the interior nature of Jesus. His Father’s will is the source from which He draws life. His Father’s will is that mighty, impelling force from which His every act proceeds as if by necessity. This is the great power of the pneuma, which fills Jesus and guides Him. His Father’s will is the command living within Jesus which makes of Him one who was sent, and everything He does draws purpose and unity therefrom. His Father’s will is the food which satisfies the hunger within Him. It is the lifestream pulsing through Him, and whosoever binds himself to follow this same will of the Father is caught up in this stream. The most precious thing of all is this will, the substance of the deepest and most delicate concern. But in all of this, there is no question of constraint — the surrender of one will to the mastery of another. Rather, it is an appeal from one Person to Another, realized in perfect freedom.
The Lord’s entire life proceeds from His Father’s will. But it is in this wise that He is truly Himself. He is truly Himself in that He does not do His own will, but the will of His Father, and so fulfills the deepest and most private principle of His being. There is a word for this: love.
His Father’s will is the Father’s love. In His will, the Father comes to Jesus in person. His appeals, His orders and commands are a “coming.” And in accepting this will, Jesus receives the Father. Addressing this will and its fulfillment is the generous acceptance of this love. It is only from this point on that words take on the sense of “must,” the “food,” the life-stream, concern for fulfillment, “Not my will, but Thine”; and the beatific triumph of the words “The will of my Father I shall do always.”
We would feel an exaggeration, an overdriving, a forcible upheaval, were we only to consider this will objectively, as a moral imperative of righteousness or whatever. But one can only receive something from such a source as this into the interior life, the heart and the spirit, if what is received is love.
If we listen hence to the inner Jesus vibrating through all His deeds and sayings, we can always sense a continuing interior dialogue; it is always the Father who says, “Do this”; and Jesus answers, “Yes, I will; all is well.” An encounter and a unity of spirit are there at one and the same time. There is a divine blessedness here.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Guardini’s Meditations on the Christ : Model of All Holiness, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.