Jesus uses examples from nature as part of his preaching.
How often have you heard a sermon that emphasised the importance of the natural world in the life of Jesus? Not often? Yet, when we look at the gospels we see that the assets of nature played a crucial role in his life.
At his birth, Luke tells us that Jesus was laid in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn (Lk 2:7). Mary, Joseph, the animals and straw surrounded Jesus at his birth.
The love which Mary and Joseph had for Jesus and the helplessness and total dependence of the infant Jesus on his parents captures our imagination. It was St Francis of Assisi, the great lover of all creation, who graphically portrayed this in the first Christmas Crib which appeared in Greccio in 1223.
Thomas of Celano wrote, ‘It had, indeed, been the intention of Francis, by a concrete representation of the manger-crib, the hay, the live animals, and the child-image, to remind all of the pitiably harsh circumstances of the birth of the Son of God. In the crib, we can see that Jesus’ hands are spread out in a gesture of love for us and all creation.’
From the beginning of his life Jesus had first hand contact with nature. The importance of nature is central to St Mark’s gospel even though he does not have an infancy gospel. His gospel begins with the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness where wild beasts and angels looked after him. (Mk 1:12-13).
It was during his sojourn in the desert that Jesus came to accept and appreciate the messianic ministry he was called to embrace. In order to be fully open to his call, Jesus forsook the company of people and spent time in the wilderness. He regularly returned to the hills to pray and commune with the Father, especially before making important decisions like choosing the 12 disciples (Lk 6:12).
Jesus’ ministry was carried out, not so much in synagogues or the Temple, as in the cathedral of nature. In Matthew’s Gospel, the beatitudes and subsequent teachings are delivered on a mountainside (Matt 5:1-7:29).
Many of Jesus’ parables were centred on nature. To illustrate how different people respond to the gospel message, he told the Parable of the Sower. ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow... Some fell on the edge of the path... Others fell among thorns. And the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crops, some a hundredfold, some 60, some 30. Listen anyone who has ears’ (Matt 13:4-9).
Jesus displayed an appreciative and contemplative attitude which, of course, was rooted in God’s love for all creatures. ‘Think of the ravens. They neither sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them’ (Lk 12:24). The gospels warn about the urge to continually accumulate more and more goods.
‘God will provide for our legitimate needs; are you not worth more than the birds?’ (Lk 12: 24)
Fr Sean McDonagh is a researchers for the Society of St Columban on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation priorities.
Read more from The Far East, April 2011