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GRACE: JEAN VALJEAN FROM LES MISERABLES


The story of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables is a great example of grace.

* I read the book many years ago. Liza and I just saw the movie adaptation of the musical.

* "Les Misérables is a French historical novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862, that is considered one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century. In the English-speaking world, the novel is usually referred to by its original French title, which can be translated from the French as The Miserables, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, or The Victims." (Wikipedia.org).

* "Sentenced to a 19 year term of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread, Jean Valjean gradually hardened into a tough convict... At last Valjean earned his release. Convicts in those days had to carry identity cards, however, and no innkeeper would let a dangerous felon spend the night. For four days he wandered the village roads, seeking shelter against the weather, until finally a kindly bishop had mercy on him." (Philip Yancey).

* I see in this story a powerful parallel with the teachings in Galatians, contrasting the law and grace. Jean Valjean is a guilty man, convicted of a crime. He experiences undeserved grace from a bishop, and the pursuit of the law from a policeman named Javert.

* I love Victor Hugo's description of the bishop's gracious acceptance of Jean Valjean:

o The bishop, who was sitting near him, touched his hand gently and said, "You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house, it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering, you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome... What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it... your name is brother."

o That's grace! To extend love, acceptance and forgiveness to a sinful person...

* "That night, Jean Valjean rose from bed, rummaged through the cupboard for the family silver, and crept off into the darkness. The next morning three policemen knocked on the bishop's door with Valjean in tow. They had caught the convict in flight with the stolen silver and were ready to put the scoundrel in chains for life. The bishop responded in a way that no one, especially Jean Valjean, expected...

* "So here you are!" he cried to Valjean, "I'm delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well? They're silver like the rest, and worth a good 200 francs. Did you forget to take them?" Jean Valjean's eyes had widened. He was now staring at the old man with an expression no words can convey. Valjean was no thief, the bishop assured the police. "This silver was my gift to him." When the policemen withdrew, the bishop gave the candlesticks to his guest, now speechless and trembling. "Do not forget, do not ever forget," said the bishop, "that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man." (Philip Yancey).

* The power of that act of grace transformed Jean Valjean's life forever. He becomes a hero, a man who adopts and loves and cares for a young girl who loses her mother.

* However, the detective Javert, who knows no law but justice, stalks Valjean for the next two decades. In the end, Jean Valjean has a chance to kill Javert, but lets him go free.

* Throughout the whole Bible, we see two ways of relating to God: the law or grace.

* The law always condemns, grace always forgives.

* Like Jean Valjean, we deserve punishment, but God offers grace and mercy.

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