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I’m sure many of you will know the story of Victor Hugo’s epic tale LES MISERABLES. Well let me remind you this morning of the opening picture. Jean Valjean, our hero, is released on parole from 19 years of hard labour on a chain gang? His crime, he was caught trying to steal a loaf of bread. And he finds that the yellow ticket of leave which he must by law display condemns Him to be an outcast. No-one will help him, give him a job, or somewhere to stay…. Until the kind old bishop of Digne, takes him in and feeds him, treating him as one of his own.

Valjean, hardened and embittered by years of forced labour repays the bishop by stealing some of his silver and taking off in the night. Pretty soon Valjean is caught by the police and brought back to find that the bishop feigns astonishment. He insists that the silver was Valjeans all along and that in his hurry to leave he’d forgotten thsomething… the bishop then hands over his silver candlesticks as a parting gift. The case for the prosecution falls apart, and the police leave empty handed. While Valjean escapes the death penalty, which would have surely followed. The bishop tells Valjean, ‘I’ve bought your soul from the devil and I’ve given it to God’. This one act of kindness changes Valjean forever. It is one of the greatest pictures of redemption in European literature. And it will help us understand what Paul is saying to us here, as well as the church of Corinth in the first century.

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