Les misImagine for a moment that I did something to greatly offend you.  Let’s say that I spray painted ugly things on your front lawn, or vandalized your car, or intentionally hurt your child.  Let’s say that after I had offended you, I began to feel bad for my actions.  I feel the need for forgiveness, so I go to my friend Craig and I ask him to forgive me for what I have done to you.  Now, my friend Craig does not know you, and my offensive actions were not perpetrated in any way against him.   In this environment, how appropriate do you think my apology is?  The answer:  not very appropriate at all.  If I am remorseful, I should apologize to you, because you are the one I have sinned against.  It is you, that I would need meaningful forgiveness from because it is you I have hurt.

Understanding this, we can understand the power of the grace the Priest extends to Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” opening moments.  The Priest had been offended – Valjean’s latest crime was against this man . . . stealing his silver.  The Priest had every right to exact punishment on Valjean after the police caught him.  As mentioned yesterday, Valjean understood this.  Of the Priest, he sang:

One word from him and I’d be back, beneath the lash upon the rack

Instead he offers me my freedom

The grace offered by the priest is so meaningful because Valjean had sinned against him. . . the priest had something to forgive.  Instead of just mouthing the words, “You are forgiven” the Priest graciously gives Valjean a new life.

In this way, the Priest’s transaction mirrors our relationship with God in Christ.  As sinful people, our sin ultimately is not just an offense against a person, but an offense against God.  Our lust, greed, and pride are not just signs of our ugliness, they are offenses against a holy God.  One word from God and we’d be back, beneath an eternal lash upon the rack.  However, instead of condemning us to die, Jesus graciously offers us His life.  Jesus offers to die on the cross to take the full payment that our sins deserve.  His offer is so meaningful and loving because HE IS THE ONE WE HAVE SINNED AGAINST!

When we see a movie like “Les Miserables” sometimes we wish that someone would show us the kind of grace the Priest showed Jean Valjean.  In Christ, all are offered the same gift, only more.  Instead of giving us silver that will tarnish, Jesus gives us righteous treasure that will never go away.

Upon hearing of the gracious offer of our Savior, we now have a choice.  What will we do?  Will we receive the grace He offers and see it transform our lives, or will we reject it and try to work out our life in our own strength?

Jean Valjean took seriously the words of the Bishop and allowed the grace to transform him.  The Bishop spoke to Valjean and said:

But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have saved your soul for God!

Javert on the other hand, refused to allow the gifts offered him to dent his heart of stone.  Some see in Javert a calloused villain, however, in him I see real tragedy.  Like Valjean, he was offered the gracious gift of life many times, yet he rejected its freedom.  Instead, it drove him to suicide.  Before jumping to his death, Javert spoke of his confusion over the grace offered him:

Who is this man?
What sort of devil is he?
To have me caught in a trap
And choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last
To put a seal on my fate
Wipe out the past
And wash me clean off the slate!
All it would take
Was a flick of his knife
Vengeance was his
And he gave me back my life!
Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!

And my thoughts fly apart
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?
And must I now begin to doubt
Who never doubted all these years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That granting me my life today
This man has killed me even so?
I am reaching, but I fall
And the stars are black and cold.
As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on…..

Javert is the symbol of one who rejects the grace offered to him.  Like the older brother in the Prodigal Son Parable of Luke 15, he refuses to see the beauty in grace . . . instead it drives him mad.  Because of this, Valjean ends the story in heaven, while Javert ends in demise.  It is not that Javert is a worse man that Valjean . . . it is that Javert rejected grace while Valjean accepted it.

Of course, “Les Miserables” is just a story. You  can reject my interpretation of “Les Miserables” as a misguided attempt to see God in the arts.  However, the stakes are much higher in humanity’s relationship with God.  If we reject the grace offered us in Christ, our eternity is at stake.  May all who read this post think seriously about our response to the grace offered us in Christ.  Will we respond as Valjean or Javert?

  • The world we live in is miserable, thus we want something more.
  • Sin prevents us from experiencing that something more.
  • Grace, not Law allows us to live another story.
  • We must accept that grace in order for it to be effective in our lives.

Praise God there is hope for miserable people like you and me.

3 thoughts on “Les Misérables – Reflection #4

  1. Always enjoy your perspective. Haven’t seen the movie but know the story. Thanks, Mark.

  2. I was struck while watching the movie at how differently Javert responded to Mercy. I think the contrast was most clear with the line “I am reaching but I fall” that Javert sang, to the same tune that Valjean had sung it at his moment of conversion. What I saw was the “Judas” response to mercy (resentment leading to despair) and the “Peter” response to mercy (accepting it and learning to distribute it).

    A powerful opportunity for reflection.

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