Rag. Now there’s an every-day word.
Unsophisticated, earthy, almost guttural – rags are blue-collar, made-for-dirt, hidden-from-company kind of stuff.
We all have them, but some people go to considerable lengths to deny it.
“It’s not a wash rag, dear. It’s a wash cloth.”
“Oh. Yew not from around heah, are ya’?”
That t-shirt or those shorts you’re wearing? Rags in the making.
I grew up with wash rags, shop rags, shoeshine rags, snot rags (my dad’s term), and dust rags. “Dust cloths” were the property of Yankees and people from other parts of town.
My dad sometimes called the local newspaper a rag. Austin once had an underground paper called The Rag.
I’m sure my sister taught a couple of rag dolls when she would line her collection up in her bedroom and practice teaching school to them.
Mamma would “put on her glad rags” – her dressy/work clothes – “and get out of here.”
About the time I hit junior high, The Sting brought ragtime music, courtesy of Scott Joplin, back into popularity.
The Beverly Hillbillies? Rags to riches.
My Auburn friends would purchase Tiger rags – those spirit towels they wave at football games (and cry into after the Iron Bowl).
Then there’s Rags, the musical, and Fright Rags – horror t-shirts.
C. W. Post, the cereal magnate, had a dream of building a utopia. What better place than just off the caprock on the south plains of Texas? During construction (and reconstruction) the new town of Post, Texas became known to the locals as “Ragtown” because of the number of workers who lived in tents.
And where would the language be without ragamuffins – defined as shabbily-clothed children, or a breed of cat?
“Bible Rag” is NOT a Hebrew Jazz Tune
Rags show up in the Bible. Proverbs 23:21 says, that “the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.” Ouch.
Isaiah gets even stronger.
For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (KJV – “filthy rags”);
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away ( Isaiah 64:6).
Okay, I get that laziness will land me in the rag department. But righteous deeds? Filthy rags? Yes. Because, the prophet says, the righteous works don’t flow out of a pure heart.
The New Testament Clothing Exchange
Speaking of flow, John Ortberg, in his book by that title, points out that the imagery of rags and robes fills the Bible. The New Testament mentions nine specific things that we are to “put on” – to clothe ourselves with – including humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, love, compassion, the armor of God, and even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But before we can put on the robes, we have to let go of the R.A.G.S. Here Ortberg categorizes the things the New Testament says to get rid of – things that quench the Spirit’s flow in our lives. R.A.G.S. stands for:
- Resentment – the many faces of inappropriate anger.
- Anxiety – worry, fear of the future, or the unwillingness or inability to trust God.
- Greed – wrongful desires, either for money, sex, food, or any other misguided desire.
- Superiority – an attitude of pride, especially as we compare ourselves with others.
In Search of the Rags
You’ll find rags mentioned in one other place in the Bible. Of all places, it came from the leader of an angel army, addressed to some unsuspecting shepherds.
And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12, GW).
Translation: Look for the kid wrapped in the rags. That’s how you’ll know He’s the real deal, and what I’m telling you is true.
Does it not seem odd to you that God makes such a point of this? What’s the big deal about the rags?
Simple – it’s an outward picture of how Jesus clothed himself when He invaded the planet.
The dictionary definition of “rag” is “a worthless piece of cloth, especially one that is torn or worn.” That’s us. Worn, torn, worthless. He “put on flesh” – the rags of our weaknesses and tattered lives – to show us that what’s worthless-looking to us is priceless to God.
The angels who witnessed both sides must have seen the stark contrast. It was the ultimate act of self-deprecation. The Ultimate put on the appearance of the mortal. Glory emptied, He took on flesh. He wore the rags.
He embraced the life of a race whose integrity had been shredded – individuals whose lives had been shattered into fragmentary bits. And He came to gather the scraps, and knit those shredded lives back together.
He loved the rags of society – those who were regarded with contempt or distaste. He hung (literally) with thieves, dined with scoundrels, and loved the low-lifes and lepers.
But he never ragged them. He saved that for the jealous hypocrites in that circus called religion.
His was no tabloid ministry. He eschewed the sensational and generally avoided grabbing the headlines. His words were truth, and He based them solely on what He heard His Father saying. His “yes” was yes, His “no,” no. And when He said He had come to give life, He meant it.
More than any of those things, however, Jesus took on the spiritual R.A.G.S. that bound us. For resentment, He offered forgiveness. For anxiety, He offered His peace. In exchange for greed, He offered contentment. And in place of our superiority, He offered humility.
As a race, we chose the R.A.G.S.
But get this – as a Redeemer, He did too! This was no social or political gesture. He who knew no sin became sin for us, in order that we could become clothed with the righteousness of God. On the cross, He bore the disdain, the rejection, the brokenness, and the separation brought about by our sin.
That’s what we celebrate with every communion, every Good Friday, and ultimately every Easter. Jesus wore the rags; by faith and repentance, we are dressed in the robes.
Look for the kid wrapped in the rags. Want to do something different to remember what Easter’s all about? Rip an old t-shirt up into strips. Then wrap a couple around a hand, a wrist or an ankle for a while. If somebody wants to know if you’ve lost your mind, just tell them the issue isn’t what you’ve lost, but Who found you.
After all, He knew where to look… He looked for the ones dressed in the R.A.G.S.