By Rick McVicar
The writer of Mark’s Gospel displays a complicated relationship with nature. At times the gospel seems in sync with nature, while in other instances the writer treats nature as a real problem.
A love-hate relationship with nature is demonstrated from the very beginning. In Mark 1:2-3, a messenger appears in wilderness to “prepare your way… make straight paths for him” (NIV). According to footnotes, the writer is referring to Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
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What is interesting about the Malachi text is that God is found in the temple (NRSV). Mark transplants God’s location to wilderness, clearly a nod in favor of nature. However, Mark’s nature loving is short lived, as paths must be made “straight.” There is no tarrying along crooked, meandering paths crisscrossing across wilderness grounds.
Indeed, the Isaiah text reads like justification for building freeways. “Make straight in the desert a highway,” states Isaiah 40:3 (NSRV). In the next verse, valleys and mountains are to be leveled. God is going to take control of nature with a heavy hand.
In Mark’s Gospel, these references to Hebrew prophets are followed by the introduction of John the Baptist, who lives at one in nature in a wilderness setting. John wears clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt and eats locusts and honey (1:6, NIV). John preaches along the banks of the Jordan River, where he performs baptisms.
However, here again nature loving is followed by antagonism towards nature, as John’s preaching attracts throngs of people trapsing through the wilderness to be baptized. People come from far and wide, emptying out the city of Jerusalem. One can only imagine the amount of litter they toss throughout the wilderness as they travel to be baptized.