"The Ragamuffin Gospel," by Brennan Manning, is such an insightful book. It talks about the very heart of God’s grace for even the most lowly of us (which, by the way, is all of us). This column is dedicated to Brennan, because it’s his words of wisdom about God’s incredible love that I share. Brennan passed away in 2013 at the age of 78.
Brennan struggled with alcoholism most of his life and this was after he became a Christian. Yet, by knowing and living in God’s grace each and every day, he helped thousands of others, like myself, understand God’s great love and grace, too.
The “ragamuffin gospel” means that “whatever achievements might bring us honor, whatever past disgraces might make us blush, all have been crucified with Christ and exist no more.” What this allows us, is to be childlike again and simply accept Christ into our hearts and lives. We don’t have to justify our worth or explain away our sins.
He says, “Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with people described in the Gospels as the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the hungry, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, the persecuted, the downtrodden, the captives, those possessed by unclean spirits, all who labor and are heavy burdened, the rabble who know nothing of the law, the crowds, the little ones, the least, the last, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The truth of the matter, and the very heart of Jesus’ love for all of us, is that he doesn’t base his grace on our looks, our material possessions, our careers, our bank accounts or our prestige. He loves us regardless of how much, or how little, we have.
In short, Jesus hung out with ragamuffins.
Obviously, his love for the downtrodden was not an exclusive love — that would merely substitute one class prejudice for another. He related with warmth and compassion to the middle and upper classes not because of their family connections, financial clout, intelligence, or Social Register status, but because they, too, were God’s children.
While the term “poor” in the Gospel includes the economically deprived and embraces all the oppressed who are dependent upon the mercy of others, it extends to all who rely entirely upon the mercy of God and accept the Gospel of grace — the poor in sprit (Matthew 5:3).
Jesus’ partiality toward ragamuffins is an irrefutable fact of the gospel narrative. As the French philosopher Maurice Blondel said, “if you really want to understand a man, don’t just listen to what he says, but watch what he does.”
One of the mysteries of the gospel tradition is the strange attraction of Jesus for the unattractive, this strange desire for the undesirable, this strange love for the unlovely. The key to this mystery is, of course, Abba. Jesus does what He sees the Father doing; he loves those whom the Father loves.
Further light is cast on the "ragamuffin gospel" by the sinner’s privilege. When the scribes and Pharisees badger Jesus as to why he consorts with ragamuffins, he says to them, “I have come to call the sinner, not the self-righteous.”
The sinners to whom Jesus directed His messianic ministry were not those who simply skipped morning devotions or Sunday church. His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners. They had one nothing to merit salvation. Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them. On the other hand, the self-righteous place their trust in the words of the law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.
But the salvation Jesus brought could not be earned. There could be no bargaining with God in a petty poker table atmosphere: “I have done this; therefore you owe me that.” Jesus utterly destroys the juridical notion that our works demand payment in return. Our puny works do not entitle us to barter with God. Everything depends on his good pleasure.
Jesus loves the little children (and many of us know that song of Sunday School classes). We are God’s children and he wants us to come to him as a child would. The “little” part isn’t as much to do with age as it is with having humility and the simple reception that comes from being a child. God’s grace falls on them because they are small and seemingly unimportant creatures, not because of their good qualities. They may be aware of their worthlessness, but this is not the reason revelations are given to them. Jesus expressly attributes their good fortune to the Father’s good pleasure. The gifts are not determined by the slightest personal quality of virtue. They were pure liberality. Once and for all, Jesus deals the death blow to any distinction between the elite and the ordinary in the Christian community.
Jesus loves you. He loves you right where you are at and not where you should be, because you and I will never be where we should be. His love for you did not begin because of how deserving you were, and it continues in spite of how undeserving you are.
Oh, thank you, Lord, for loving ragamuffin me.
This column is a regular feature of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Detroit Lakes-born speaker, radio personality and writer who now resides in International Falls, Minn.