In 2015, Pope Francis issued an Encyclical Letter on Humans and God's Creation, Laudatum Si, On Care for Our Common Home. The Encyclical explains for us what Jesus meant, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, when he told his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” Jesus' comments in Mark differs from those in Matthew, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”
In the Gospel, Mark uses the Greek word ktisis on several occasions, always meaning creation, implying the beginning as described in Genesis chapter one. The word can mean as well all things or beings, the whole or a part, the many and the one. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, 1, 20, uses the word to imply the creation as a historical whole, from the beginning to the end, including the present. In the Epistle to the Colossians, 1, 23, Paul refers to the Gospel being proclaimed to “all creation under heaven” in the same manner as Mark.
In Hebrews: 4, 13, the word ktisis refers to creatures: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” This passage enlightens us as to what Jesus meant by the creation, which includes all creatures. Likewise, in Revelation, 5, 13, John’s vision includes “every creature” in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the seas, singing “to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever.” In Luke, 19, 40, Jesus tells the Pharisees that even if humans at the excitement of the Son of Man coming were silenced, “the stones will cry out,” an explicit reference to the idea that “through him all things were made” includes more than just living things.
But how does one preach to all creatures, to the whole creation? Pope Francis’ Encyclical answers this question. In the Great Commission to his disciples and followers Jesus commanded them to care for all of God’s creatures, even bringing the Good News of God’s love to all members of God’s Creation. The ability to love each individual form of life in the Creation is what Jesus had in mind in preaching the gospel to the whole creation.
Many wise thinkers and writers over the centuries have seen in the Creation the wisdom and love of the Creator--in Edward Young's words: “'Tis Elder Scripture, Writ by God's Own Hand.” This is a theme in Pope Francis' Encyclical. He says of his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi: “His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists.”
Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church, as quoted in Pope Francis' Encyclical, agrees: “It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.”
Ecological and environmental concerns, issues of sustainability, knowing how to reuse and recycle waste, treasuring life and not wantonly destroying and killing for pleasure: these are, according to Pope Francis, what God requires of us. It is part of God's vision of His Creation, which is meant for His own glory, not just to suit what humans want to do with it.
The human tendency to destroy and alter the natural environment is, according to Pope Francis, the result of sin. But “through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.”
Pope Francis quotes from a variety of Biblical sources all leading to the conclusion that “clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”
The Pope says, beautifully: “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.”
Also worth quoting is this sublime passage: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”
The role of Christ in the Trinity—according to the Gospel of John, He through whom all things are made—is the mysterious go-between, according to Pope Francis, between ourselves and other forms of life on earth. Indeed, the Pope argues that humans need to go through an “ecological conversion”, “whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
“We read in the Gospel,” Francis continues, “that Jesus says of the birds of the air that 'not one of them is forgotten before God’. . . . How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”.
The Great Commission, then, outlined in Mark, calls upon humans to embrace all creation, not just other humans, in the love of God, which encompasses the entire creation, not just humanity—only when humans realize that we are part of something greater than ourselves rather than the means as well as the end, will we be able to turn back the clock on environmental destruction and ecological chaos, to fully preach to the Creation God's message of Love.
(Quotes from the Encyclical of Pope Francis are found, along with the entire Encyclical, online at: http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html)