The Ragamuffin Gospel

By February 14, 2015Christianity

Then He went out again by the sea; and all the multitude came to Him, and He taught them. As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:13-17)

Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with people described in Mark’s gospel as “sinners.” Sinners were considered the ilk of Jewish society—the demon possessed, lepers, and now, tax collectors and other types. Brennan Manning, in his classic book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, writes,

The sinners to whom Jesus directed his messianic ministry were not those who skipped morning devotions or Sunday church. His ministry was to those whom society considered real sinners. They had done nothing to merit salvation. Yet they opened themselves to the gift that was offered them. On the other hand, the self righteous placed their trust in the works of the Law and closed their hearts to the message of grace.[1]

Jesus is attracted to broken, sinful, ragamuffins who want a relationship with him. Nowhere is the privileged position of ragamuffins and marginal people on the fringes of society disclosed more than dramatically than in Jesus’ ministry of meal sharing. For Jesus to eat with such people was the most scandalous thing he could do in Jewish culture.

I grew up in the Deep South, in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. My grandfather, a rancher and farmer, would never have dreamed of inviting one of his working “hands” into our living room for a meal. They were restricted to the kitchen and the back porch. If he had been so bold, the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan would have been infuriated, and the society that they fellowshipped would have been in an uproar. The cultural caste system of the south was inflexible and inviolable.

In first century Palestinian Judaism the class system was enforced rigorously. It was legally forbidden to mingle with sinners who were outside the law. Table fellowship with beggars, prostitutes and tax collectors was socially, religiously, and culturally forbidden. A Tax Collector was a traitor to the national cause because he was collecting taxes for Rome from his own people and getting a kick back from the take.

Jesus was crossing a Jewish boundary—Tax Collectors and sinners were not even allowed to be taught the Law because their vocation and lifestyle made them ritually unclean. Jesus’ acceptance and love of such ragamuffins was violating everything in Jewish culture.

By Jesus eating meals with such people, Jesus was accepting them as friends and equals. By entering their homes, sitting down at meal, and sharing heart to heart, Jesus was taking away their shame, humiliation, and guilt.   Albert Nolan, in Jesus before Christianity, writes,

By showing them that they mattered to him as people he gave them a sense of dignity and released them from their old captivity. The physical contact which he must have had with them at table and which he obviously never dreamed of disallowing must have made them feel clean and acceptable. Moreover, because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God’s approval of them. They were now acceptable to God. Their sinfulness, ignorance, and uncleanness had been overlooked and were no longer being held against them.[2]

This is “the ragamuffin gospel,” a gospel of grace and acceptance. Jesus saw himself as a physician looking for truly unsaved sinners, people who were buried in sin and knew it. Jesus ate with them because sharing table meant sharing his heart.

Think about if Jesus came to your house today and sat down and ate with you, and he knew everything you’ve done, all your dark motives, all of your pride, all of your self seeking motivations, but then he just laughs with you, enjoys your company, and accepts you.

This is the Gospel of Grace! This is the ragamuffin gospel. You are beloved, beautiful, accepted, forgiven!

On the Road,


[1] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah Publishers, p. 57

[2] Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity, quoted in The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 60.