Jesus loved the ragamuffins, those folks that no one paid any attention to, the down-and-out, the “sinners”, the prostitutes, the lepers, the imperfect, the Samaritans, the divorced. Brennan Manning does a great job highlighting this in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning draws attention to a tendency among today’s Christians to Pharisaism, legalism, ungrace—all those things Jesus opposed.
Tonight, Heather and I host a group in our home that will discuss chapter 3 of this book. So far I’ve loved the book, and chapter 3 is no exception.
Specifically, chapter three got me to thinking more about who the ragamuffins are today.
At various points in the book, Manning does a good job of listing out those who were considered ragamuffins in Jesus’ day, and in many instances he hints at the ragamuffins of our time, but I found the central text he chose for chapter 3 of particular interest. Specifically, he draws our attention to the story where people were bringing their children to Jesus in hopes that he would bless them. We all know the story: Jesus’ disciples oppose this request, and Jesus rebukes his disciples with these words, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
Children are ragamuffins, too.
Including this story about Jesus and the children in a book about ragamuffins is heartening. A ragamuffin is anyone we’d rather not touch, anyone we think doesn’t need to be touched, is not worth our time, love and emotional energy. Ragamuffins are not always poor, they are not always dirty, they are not always homeless. There is no gender or race or age grouping that has a corner on the Ragamuffin market. We are all ragamuffins, whether we admit it or not.
I say again: children are ragamuffins too. They were in Jesus’ day and they still are today.
Often, we think of touching the untouchables in terms like this: “That people group is untouchable by society-at-large. Someone needs to touch them. I will.”
But, a ragamuffin to one person is not a ragamuffin to another. The question is not, “Who is untouchable to most everyone?” Rather, the question is, “Who is untouchable to me?” And that person is your ragamuffin.
In this light, your roommate that rubs you the wrong way may be your ragamuffin. Your ragamuffin may also be the businessman on the metro next to you. Ragamuffins may be family members. Yes, they may even be Pharisees.
And, of course, they may be children. (“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.” Mark 10:13).
Children were the disciples’ ragamuffins.
A ragamuffin is anyone regarded as repulsive by another person. The call to love ragamuffins necessitates the attendant question: “Ragamuffins to whom?”
By definition, a ragamuffin is “that which is unloved by me.” Because of this, we must (each of us, individually) come to grips with the fact that ragamuffins will be hard to love. Ragamuffins do not conform to our standards. They refuse to fit in our boxes, to sit on our couches quietly, or eat their dinners politely. Yes, it will be hard to love your ragamuffin. If you think of someone as a ragamuffin but you find it easy to love that someone, perhaps that person is not really a ragamuffin to you. In this case: start the search for your ragamuffin again, until you think of someone you really don’t love or don’t care to touch. When you find that person, you’ve found your ragamuffin.
We all have ragamuffins and we all are ragamuffins! The question is not, “Do I have ragamuffins?” Rather, it is: “Who is my ragamuffin?”
This is an important question to ask, because we are all called to love ragamuffins, to follow in Jesus’ example (by touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable—to us). Failing to love your ragamuffin means you will persist in a state of ungrace. Failing to love anyone (whether they are young or old, rich or poor, black or white, male or female) is ceasing to be like Jesus.
In that light, here’s a question: When is the last time you blessed a child in Jesus’ name? Jesus shows us: to touch a child is, for many, to touch a ragamuffin. If you haven’t loved on a child in a while, why not consider imitating your Master? Jesus wants us to follow in His footsteps, so reach out and touch a child in Jesus’ name. Go on: bless a ragamuffin.