Les Misérables

No. 86 - 01st July 2018

There’s a scene in the film Les Misérables which reduces me to tears every time I see it. The ex-convict, Jean Valjean, has skipped bail, and takes refuge in the Bishop’s house during a storm. The Bishop listens to his story and generously gives him a hot dinner and a bed for the night. Unfortunately, the ex-convict repays this kindness by stealing all the Bishop’s silver. When Valjean is caught with the silver, he’s taken back to face the Bishop and return the stolen goods. Javert, the police inspector, is absolutely mortified when the Bishop embraces the convict and says that in fact he had given all the silver to Valjean, and then presses some more into his hands saying he must have left it behind by mistake. That was a life changing moment for Jean Valjean. He’d never met this kind of mercy and generosity in his whole life, and it just cracked him open. How could someone do that for him? From that moment on, Valjean is a changed man. That’s the power of mercy and forgiveness.

It’s hard to overlook the deeply Christian imagery of this story. The Bishop is like a figure who has stepped straight out of the Sermon on the Mount. ‘If someone slaps you on the cheek,’ Jesus said, ‘turn the other cheek to him. And if a man takes your coat, let him have your shirt a well.’ It’s a massive ask, and I doubt many of us would be willing to take it that far, but you can see what a powerful weapon it is against evil. It’s interesting that later in the story, Jean Valjean gets the chance to do the same for someone else. This time it’s Inspector Javert. The man who has been hunting him down all the way through the story. When Valjean gets the chance to shoot the Inspector, he can’t do it, and spares the man’s life. That’s how deep the change has worked in his own life.

There’s a line in the Lord’s Prayer which says, ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ The two go very much hand in hand. I can’t expect God to forgive my sins if I’m not willing to forgive those who have sinned against me. Javert is passionate about seeing that justice is done where the law has been broken. For him, there is no room for mercy. But not so with God, though he doesn’t make light of justice. The film is full of crucifixes, that remind us how God paid very dearly for the right to forgive Valjean without violating justice. We’re told that Christ died for the sins of the world, so that God can forgive me, freely. How good is that? God is very good.

Share via email