The kingdom of God belongs to people who are not trying to look good and not plotting to make a political move for the sake of self. It belongs to those who do not care what others think, do, or say. It belongs to those who know how dirty, helpless, and lost they really are. The apostle Paul realized this when he said, "All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come" (Philippians 3:13). Of all people, he understood his failings. He was there for the stoning of Stephen. He dragged men, women, and children from their homes to be executed. He carried the burden of his past along with him. Yet, it is Paul who understands completely the meaning of grace. His life is a testimony of that fact, his letters spelling it out for the world. Whatever past achievements might bring us honor, whatever past disgraces might make us blush, all have been crucified with Christ and exist no more except in the deep recesses of eternity, where good is enhanced into glory and evil miraculously established as part of the greater good.
Jesus called people to humble themselves "as little children," to put on His yoke, to take upon themselves His burden. And, Jesus said, the scorned "little ones" would be given a place at the table of God! This is the Gospel for ragamuffins. This was a lesson that was difficult for the religious of Jesus' day to swallow. Likewise, it's a lesson with which we continue to struggle today. The salvation Jesus brought cannot be earned. He shattered the myth that our works demand payment in return. We cannot barter with God. Our very existence depends not on us, but on God's good pleasure. Our doing becomes the very undoing of the ragamuffin gospel. Jesus calls us to be holy, pure, and perfect (as your Father in heaven is perfect). But with all of our piety, our self-denial, our plans and purposes to do good, we so easily focus on the checklist, and not on the God of grace. We gradually fall into the trap of slipping from sinners saved by grace to sinners working our way God. And when this happens, we construct a dangerous and false image
of who we really are.
When Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "I would like to have dinner with you," He was in fact saying, "Come and have a relationship with me, be my friend, enjoy fellowship with me. I want to know you." This broke every social law that the Jews had. When Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors, he was challenging the very structure of Jewish society. When Jesus sat down with the unclean, he was in effect taking away their shame, their guilt, and treating them as equals. He showed them that they mattered and bestowed upon them a sense of dignity. Christians who are status seekers become very selective about their dinner guests. Like the Pharisees in Jesus' day, they wonder what people will say as they assemble their invitation lists. Jesus, on the other hand, concerned Himself with how He could encourage and bless hurting people. He was an example in His day and remains one for us today. The ragamuffin gospel is a message to the unwashed. The ragamuffins of our world surround us just as they gathered around Jesus, and the ragamuffin Christian is one who searches out the broken person and brings him a message of hope.
How long will it be before we realize we cannot dazzle God with our accomplishments? When will we realize that we cannot buy God's approval? We are filthy rags. We will always be that way. Authentic faith means that we look deep inside and understand this fact. If we are serious about changing our lives and the lives of others, we must first realize we cannot do it by ourselves. A deep understanding of sin and being a sinner is the first step in healing. And yet, the most religious of us are the ones dangerously close to damnation. Caiaphas, the high priest, was well versed in the structure and institutions of the Jewish laws. Caiaphas was dedicated to the institution, the nation, but failed to see the ragamuffins before him. Caiaphas represents all of those who have become puffed up and arrogant to the detriment of the outcast and unwanted. He represents those who condemn good people who break bad religious laws.
Excerpt from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, copyright 2000 by Brennan Manning. Summarized by Christian Book Summaries with permission of the publisher.