Today is the feast day of St Mark the Apostle. The Gospel reading comes to us from the sixteenth chapter, the very end of St. Mark’s Gospel. This is the so-called “longer ending” of this Gospel, as there is a scholarly dispute about whether the manuscripts containing these passages are early enough to be genuine and/or are authentic Markan authorship. The Church has traditionally received the long ending of Mark as inspired revelation.
In these passages, we read a variation of the Great Commission. Jesus commands His disciples to go forth into the world, proclaiming the glad tidings. Mark 16:15 usually reads “...proclaim the Gospel to every creature…” This is of course not wrong per se, but the words in the original Greek are more literally rendered as “proclaim the Gospel to all the creation.” I think this latter translation is more powerful and evokes the cosmic redemptive work of Christ.
St. Paul writes in Romans 8:19-22:
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now…”
The rebellion of rational creatures against God affects the entire created order. A great dislocation has occurred; the world is out of joint. Things do not work as they should. Something has gone terribly wrong. The victory over sin and death won by the Lord Jesus through His death and resurrection means that not only will mankind be redeemed from the futility of sin, but that the entirety of creation is being put back into joint. Everything that is wracked by sin will be cleansed. The contagion is being cured. The healing balm of Christ’s blood was shed for the restoration of what God made so that it will be wholly good again.
We can therefore see the powerful evocation in Mark 16:15; proclaiming the great victory of Christ to all of creation. Nothing is left unaffected by the outpouring of divine grace. In an eschatological motif, the prophet Isaiah tells us “the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.” (Is. 11:6) The glad tidings, the Christus Victor proclamation, is not only for mankind but for everything God made.
Here I am led to think of St. Francis of Assisi and his animal friends. To many, this is a trite medieval fable. Yet, if we look closely, we should see a very direct connection to the wider implications of Christ’s mission and the words from today’s passage. Through special graces, St. Francis was given a taste of the cosmic order harmoniously restored. When God is our light and life and death and corruption are no more, the competition between creatures will cease. Everything will once again exist as a peaceful symphony displaying the glory of God. Until then, we must tell everyone - and everything! - about this great hope. Perhaps not necessarily by going to the nearest zoo and preaching to the bears, although some saints might find you a kindred spirit in this exercise (St. Anthony of Padua, perhaps). Rather, we look for opportunities to proclaim the breadth of Christ’s victory. We must expand our scope and our vision of the new heavens and new earth. We must look back to Genesis 1 and take up our mandate to be proper stewards of the earth. We must see that John 3:16 speaks of God’s love for the cosmos, for all of the created order, and we must extend that same love. Doing so will help us better understand how radical the Gospel is, and how radically Jesus calls us to reorient our thinking and the whole of our lives.