I can’t remember when I first saw a t-shirt with this message: Jesus Loves You, But Then He Also Loves Everybody.
I’d like to say it was down the Jersey shore on vacation with my family because that’s such a quintessential New Jersey thing to say. Perhaps my teenage years in south Jersey help explain why I loved it so much.
Although I didn’t love that message enough to shell out twenty bucks for the shirt.
As cutting as that shirt aims to be, I find it refreshingly accurate and especially appropriate for our times.
Individualism, self-centered consumption, and personal branding are running rampant at a time when you can document your every meal, shoe choice, parenting decision, exercise accomplishment, and half-formed thought on social media. Our divided politics, white society’s mishandling of racism, and our failure to protect God’s creation all revolve around elevated notions of certain groups being God’s chosen, special people who are entitled to special blessings and provisions to meet their every need.
It’s not the worst thing to assert that we aren’t as special as we think.
Consider the potential benefits of American Christians (especially white American Christians) tempering our “chosen” status with the simple fact that we aren’t superior to anyone because everyone is beloved by God.
We still get to be loved by God. We haven’t lost anything really. We just aren’t as unique as we imagined. Any superiority was an illusion to begin with.
How many problems arise because we have lost sight of God’s image in others?
How much harder would it be to direct hate or disdain or indifference toward others if we remembered they are loved deeply by God?
Saying that Jesus loves you, but then he loves everybody reminds us of the incredible gift of God’s love we have been given without raising us above anyone else.
God’s love doesn’t generate supremacy. God’s love generates empathy and equality.
I can see that glaring mistake in my own life and in the story of Christianity in America. We’ve been too quick to make God’s love into an exclusive selection that gives us power and influence we were never offered.
A little bit of New Jersey’s cutting sarcasm can be a real gift for us today, provided we direct the sarcasm at ourselves.
I can say, “Jesus loves me, but then he also loves everybody.”
That is comforting and even liberating because it puts me in my place, both in a positive, affirming sense and in a humbling, realistic clap back.
Perhaps the greatest scandal I have faced in examining this statement is the fact that I’ve believed God’s love for me simply wasn’t good enough. I needed to be loved by God and also somehow more chosen or superior to others.
The good news is that God’s reign is here right now, and the God who longs to restore our world loves each of us without reservation as beloved children. There’s no need to long for anything more.