In BACI’s 2017 Spring Lecture in Rathfarnham parish church (April 27), Margaret Daly-Denton explored themes from her forthcoming book, John, an Earth Bible Commentary: Supposing Him to be the Gardener (London: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark, July 2017). This volume in the Earth Bible Commentary Series suggests how John’s gospel might motivate and resource a Christian response to the ecological crisis.
Addressing the combined BACI and IBA audience, Margaret remarked on how aptly Mary Magdalene recognized the risen Jesus as ‘Gardener’ (John 20.15), completing his day’s work in the ‘garden’ of the Earth. The story of Jesus offers his present-day followers a paradigm with considerable potential to inspire Earth care, sustainable living, and commitment to eco-justice. The evangelist suggests that Jesus fulfils the Jewish hope for a restoration envisaged as a return of humankind to Eden.
Mindful of the garden theme, Margaret reads John’s gospel with sensitivity to the role of the more-than-human world in the narrative with particular attention to the scriptural underlay that repeatedly brings this world into the foreground. Beginning with an exploration of the memories and associations that the garden setting would have evoked for the intended audience, she then follows the gospel’s spiral path that eventually leads to the garden of Mary’s encounter with Jesus. The gospel challenges the reader with the question of how believers might undertake God’s work in today’s ecologically damaged world (John 6.28). Margaret’s insightful book also offers practical suggestions relating to the settings occupied by those who hear her passionate — yet disciplined — challenge to share in the work of ‘Gardener’.