Divine Love Can’t Quit You

There’s an intense exchange between Jesus and Simon (aka Peter) recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Mark. It’s very early in Jesus’ ministry, and a de facto center of operations seems to have developed at Simon’s home in the fishing village of Capernaum. Jesus is healing all sorts of people, including Simon’s mother-in-law. (We don’t know her name, nor that of Simon’s wife.) People are coming from miles around and being healed of all sorts of diseases, and some who are possessed by demons are being freed from their oppression. Things are really taking off!

Then, without telling anyone, Jesus leaves town for somewhere identified as “deserted.” What he was doing there goes undescribed, perhaps he’s not alone at all. Perhaps he’s gone off for a meeting, checking in with the other members of the Holy Trinity. They are, after all, in this thing together.

Meanwhile, Simon and his companions are described as hunting for Jesus. There’s an air of intense desperation about them, like panicked parents searching for a child who has suddenly gone missing at Walmart. Mark’s Greek captures this by shifting the verb tenses. To this point all the action has been narrated as something that has already happened. Suddenly, in this brief exchange between hunters and Jesus everything is foregrounded the way a cinematographer closes in on the people talking so that their faces fill the screen.

“Everyone is looking for you!” they exclaim.

But Jesus is unfazed by their frustration with him and his apparent disregard for the good things that are happening back in Capernaum. The camera pulls back, and Jesus responds by changing the subject.

 “Let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came out to do,” says Jesus.

“What I came out to do.” What does Jesus mean by that?

The immediate context suggests that he’s referring to leaving Capernaum alone – a way of getting things going elsewhere. But there might be more.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is recorded as being in a debate with some of his critics. In the course of their exchange, Jesus describes himself as “coming out from God” for the sake of the mission of loving the world. Jesus describes himself as sent by the Trinity. He is compelled–not that it’s against his will. It’s that he can’t help himself. He’s got to do it. It’s who he is. God is love.

The same internal drive sends Jesus out of Capernaum and into the neighboring towns.

In a letter to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, Paul describes his mission similarly, as an obligation. But it’s not something that he has to do in order to not get into trouble with God. It’s not like he would rather be doing something else. He can’t help himself. He’s just got to tell people about the freedom that is there under the gracious gift of divine, unmerited love.

He can’t quit, and neither can God.

Perhaps, like Simon and his companions, you’ve been searching for a good thing. Who wouldn’t? If you are, rest assured that the Love of God is searching for you and will not stop doing so.

If you’d like to talk about how that might happen in your life, Pr. Kate and I are always up for a conversation.

– Pr. Jim 

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.

February 7, 2024