BETWEEN THE ANIMALS AND THE ANGELS
As soon as He had been baptized in the Jordan, Jesus went into the desert. He was there for forty days. He was fulfilling the type of Israel, the people who passed through the Red Sea, then went into the desert for forty years. They had been tempted, so was Jesus. Moreover, as Mark insists on telling us, Jesus was with the wild animals.
How interesting that Mark should associate animals with temptation. Adam was with animals in Eden. He was tempted, he fell, and thus turned paradise into a desert. Jesus was with animals in the desert. He was tempted, did not fall, and turned the desert into paradise. Noah, when God was regenerating the human race, was accompanied by all sorts of beasts. The Flood was an act of deliverance. Another beast is the Apocalyptic Beast in Revelation 13, representing a time when all Christians will be tempted to desert our holy faith, to forsake the paradise Jesus has prepared for us, and learn to love the desert which the powers of Satan have established in the world.
Matthew and Luke record our Lord's temptation. We're more familiar with their accounts. They tell us that Jesus fasted for forty days. Mark says nothing about fasting. Matthew and Luke also record considerable dialogue during the temptation. Mark does not record a single word. That is because Mark wants to emphasize that Jesus is truly the Second Adam, living with animals, served and protected by the angels. He wants us to see how completely Jesus had become one of us.
To be human is to be between the animals and the angels. We have a body, as do all the animals, and we have a soul, as do all angels. No other creature so combines these features. This has been a riddle for our ancestors throughout the centuries. The Egyptians built the Sphynx as a memorial to man's frustration with his own nature. That great stone statue with the body of an African lion and a human head is a graphic illustration of the double nature of man as body and soul. The Son of God takes this a step further. He not only combines the rational and the bestial, but adds the divine to it. St. Paul says He emptied Himself of divine power and glory, humbled Himself, and took the form of a servant. He, the Creator of all beasts, now had for Himself the body of an animal. He, the King of Angels, had the rational soul of an angel. He had become man. He had become His own image. Thus all temptations that come to us came also to Him.
Our position between the animals and the angels sets our natural boundaries. As long as Adam was content to be that, all was well, but paradise is not part of our lives. In our fallen condition, contentment is a very fragile item. Temptations come at us from both directions, to either be a little higher than the angels or a little lower than the animals. Of these the second is far more common. The Spirit of the Age exalts the beast in us. This is so evident from the popular trends among us. Ever since the First World war, music has become less and less rational and orderly, until a form called "Rap" evolved which did away with melody altogether, and drama shows us the anti-hero, an emotion-driven victim of his own subconscious, totally irresponsible, a pathetic loser of the game of life. The relationship between the sexes has also suffered, coming down from the plateau of respect and chivalry that was normal in the Victorian Age, to the disease-ridden swamp of the singles' bar, and even to perversion. In every instance, the fair model has given way to the foul, the truly human to the ethics of the barnyard. There is even some resentment against those whose taste is for finer things, as if that were a fault. Carnal indulgence can't be avoided, but we must not be proud of it. There is nothing virtuous about losing control, and while bestial behavior might be "natural" for pigs, it is sub-natural for us. We must not desert the post God gave us, between the animals and the angels. We must not worship the Golden Calf - the beast within worshipping the beast without.
The opposite temptation is equally deadly, and those who overcome the first are very vulnerable to the second. We want to be higher than the angels. So the snake snared the first woman by promising her You shall be like God. This is not just a temptation for wealthy people, or people with influence. Having refined manners can so easily lead to snobbery. We tend to exclude from our presence those whose language and dress make us uncomfortable. Even worse is religious snobbery, the attitude that God, for some reason, prefers you. Worse yet, though, is the craving for power. Such a quest can lead to magic and occult practices, not caring whom it hurts. Yet as bad as that is, there is a temptation that is worse than all. I mean the sin of considering yourself above and beyond the Law. If you are familiar with C. S. Lewis's stories about Narnia, this was the sin of Digory Kirk's Uncle Andrew. He did not think the Law applied to him, not because he was under grace, but because his own person and self-chosen mission were too important. That is the temptation to be a little higher than the angels. Thank God His discipline usually knocks you down from that before you jump out of your God-given place.
Jesus stood where we stand. He was in the desert, between the animals and the angels. He could not be tempted either way. By turning stones into bread He could have served His animal needs. By jumping from the Temple He could have been proclaimed the Great Magician, but He refused both of these so Satan tried a unique temptation, one that would only work on a sinless Person - to join the fallen angels in exchange for the world. He condemned this as well. He was going to purchase the world with a far dearer price, His blood. He had proved Himself true Man by dying on the cross, then put His divinity to good use by rising again from the dead, so the way of the cross is the way of victory. The One who was naturally higher than the angels, the King of Angels, voluntarily accepted this impossible mission, and carried it out to perfection. As He stood in our place, between the animals and the angels, He opened Paradise to us all, and turned His back on the desert. In our Baptism, we passed through the Jordan with Him. We stand where He did, between the animals and the angels, tempted as He was, but with the power of His cross and resurrection filling us with grace. For His sake, the angels serve us, and deliver us from the Beast. AMEN.
~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross