Coming to theaters at Christmas is Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway in a story of broken dreams and unrequited love, sacrifice and redemption. The movie (and award winning) musical is based on the novel by Victor Hugo, and compares and contrasts two philosophies of life. During the horrible days leading up to the French Revolution, the main character of the story (even hero?) is a man named Jean Valjean. He steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, is caught, and spends 19 years in prison doing hard labor.
A local priest had faith that Valjean could be redeemed and reaches out to him. Valjean later becomes a successful businessman. But another character in the story, police inspector Javert, believes the old idea, “once a thief, always a thief” and hounds Valjean for years.
Javert has no room in his mind or heart for forgiveness, second chances, or leniency. The law is the final arbiter and must be strictly applied. He obeyed it without question, wore it as a symbolic badge of honor, and used it as a whip on others. By contrast, Valjean has been transformed by the kindness and efforts of the priest, and becomes generous and forgiving.
At the end of the story Valjean has a chance to kill the relentless inspector, but he tells him of his redemption and allows him to escape. The compassion, self-awareness, maturity, and kindness Valjean shows Javert unnerves and haunts the self-righteous policeman. He later stands on a bridge over the Seine River and screams, “He is a better man than me,” right before he jumps to his death. Javert chose suicide rather than change. Even though I gave away the plot and ending, I still suggest you see the film, because Jackman, Crowe, and Hathaway are three of my favorite actors, and this is a story that should resonate with all of us.
Read Galatians 2:15-21 and reread verse 16 – “Man is not justified by keeping the law.”
It is true that Javert had the law on his side. But he was a mean, ruthless, unforgiving, and obsessive person. Valjean had 19 years of breaking big rocks into smaller ones behind him. He chose to listen to a concerned priest hoping to point him to a better way and found in his heart space to receive God’s forgiveness (and the priest’s). Then he began to pass it on to others.
That is what the message of Jesus is all about. It’s a new way of thinking, a new way to live. The law cannot save. It can only condemn (Galatians 2:16). Salvation comes by grace and they who receive it demonstrate its effects by their changed life of grace, compassion, and forgiveness.
It is not an issue of being a better person – especially if you define “better” as one who keeps the “law” best and doesn’t hurt anyone (subjectively speaking, of course). It’s experiencing the transforming love of Jesus through faith, and asking him to empower us to live like he did – in a kind, loving, non-judgmental manner that He Himself modeled and called us to. I don’t know about you, but I need help to live like Jesus. It’s called having a better…a redeemed heart.
Are you quick to notice and condemn wrong behavior in others? Why? Do you set higher legalistic standards for others than for yourself? Which of your friends makes you feel uncomfortable by judging you? Who eases your mind by their loving and forgiving approach?
Walk wisely. God’s highest law is the law of love. Ask God’s help to be a better person.
Love is a verb,