And He was with the Wild Animals

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:12, 13)

This verse from the Gospel of Mark was the assigned Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent. St. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of all four Gospels, but it is breathtaking in its focus on the “good news of Jesus Christ,” its economy of words and its typological underpinnings. So, the reference in verse 13 to wild animals and angels is not a throw-away phrase. Contained in that brief phrase is an astounding view of human anthropology. (I am thankful for the perspective of Bishop Robert Barron in his homiletical interpretation of this passage a few weeks back.)

According to the Church Fathers, humanity stands in a unique place in the created order. We humans are a combination of materiality and spirit, flesh and soul. The wild animals represent the highest, most complex beings of the material created order, and the angels represent the highest, most magnificent beings of the spiritual created order. But note-neither of these categories of creation combines materiality and spirituality. Only humans, created in the image of God, have that distinction. Specifically in the wilderness of temptation, but generally in the incarnation itself, Jesus stands between materiality and spirituality, reconciling the two. As he dwells with the wild animals and the angels, Jesus stands as the iconic priest to the created order. But his great act of reconciliation in his passion, death, resurrection, ascension and reign in glory extends to us the same priesthood, reconciling materiality and spirituality, body and soul, flesh and spirit.

Moretto da Brescia (1498-1554), “Christ in the Wilderness”

One way is which we can see this theological stance evidenced is in great acts of human achievement in all areas of human life and flourishing-acts of great moral virtue, achievements in science, medicine, technology, humanities, arts, education, literature, business, even in great feats of athleticism. These achievements are unique to humans, and cannot be found in the strictly material or spiritual realms. As a musician, I see the evidence of this combination of materiality and spirituality in great music-making. As a choral conductor, seeing and hearing a choir of disparate voices come together and sound as one is an amazing accomplishment combining human material and spiritual talents. In choirs, one plus one does not equal two, but five or ten. Ten plus ten can equal a hundred as voices combine with great material and spiritual impact.

What does all of this mean? God has positioned humans uniquely as priests, participating in the priesthood of Christ. We have the opportunity and privilege to use our priestly function to draw the created order back to God through the Great High Priest, Jesus the Christ. We can use our distinctive abilities as spiritual/material creatures to display the objective beauty of God, re-enchanting the world with the Gospel. One of the most effective means of making the Christian faith attractive to the world comes through an enthusiastic embrace of objective beauty, because that is revelatory of God, the manifestation of infinite beauty. All of us are called to a beautiful existence, being priests of, and evangelists to, the created order through Jesus Christ our Lord. A life of beauty is alluring and winsome to our world that is so devoid of such beauty, and living lives of beauty, goodness and truth is truly the hope for our darkened days.

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies from 2007-2024. Dr. Hart was a member of the first IWS doctoral class, the Alpha class, and served as Dean of Students during his matriculation. After graduating from IWS, Dr. Webber appointed him as the Dean of Administration, and then Provost in 2006. In June of 2007, he was inaugurated as the second president of IWS. Dr. Hart holds a B.M. in Sacred Music from Oral Roberts University, an M.M. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Tulsa, and a D.W.S. from the Institute for Worship Studies. He was critical to the formation of IWS in Florida and has held administrative responsibilities since its inception in 1999. He is a professional trumpeter, choral director, and worship leader, and a published composer/arranger, songwriter, and author. He has been involved in worship leadership in various contexts around the globe for over 40 years and has taught in the areas of worship, theology, and music in various conferences, colleges, and seminaries. Dr. Hart and his wife, Carol, have three daughters and three grandchildren.