Thursday, January 03, 2013

Two Tales of Redemption

As I wrote a few days ago, Mandy and I went to see Les Miserables and loved it.  Neither of us have ever read the book, but we've both seen the stage version several times, and it's always been one of our favorite musicals.  Watching the movie made the story come together even more for me, though.  Particularly through the theme of redemption.

Redemption is a key theme in Jean Valjean's life.  He, like many others in that day, was dealt a difficult lot in life.  What got him arrested was stealing food to feed his nephew.  Not much of a crime, yet it put him in prison for 19 years.  Once he was let out of prison, he still wasn't a free man, and because of his "yellow ticket-of-leave" he would always be marked and would never have much of a life.  After trying to get a job and continually being denied, he stumbled upon a church and was given food and a bed for the night.  The film does a great job showing the turmoil going on inside Valjean's mind.  He is grateful for the charity, but knows it can't last.  He makes the decision to steal from those who have taken him in.

Valjean doesn't get very far before he's arrested and taken back to the church. The bishop, though, does something surprising and frankly unthinkable, at least in Valjean's eyes.  He tells the police that he had given those pieces of silver to "his guest," but he had actually forgotten to take all of them.  After the police leave, the bishop looks into Valjean's eyes (and heart), tells him to use these things to start a new life, and tells him that God has redeemed him.

It was this act of love that set Valjean free to be the man that God had created him to be.  Valjean understood the weight of his sin.  He received the gift of grace and forgiveness, and he was changed.  Instead of looking out for number one the rest of his life, he sought to do good and to pass this grace on to others.

This is a beautiful tale of redemption, but it's not the only tale in this story.  The second one occurs many years later.  It's the story of Inspector Javert, who has been chasing Valjean all of these years.

At the barricades, towards the end of the story, Javert is captured and Valjean has an opportunity to kill him.  Years ago, he wouldn't have thought twice.  But he's a different man now.  He holds his knife up to Javert, but instead of killing him he cuts his ropes and tells him to leave.  Javert assumes that Valjean has struck some kind of deal, but then he realizes that he hasn't.  Valjean, the man he pledged his life to find, is offering him mercy, and he has no idea what to do with it.  Javert tragically chooses to end his life rather than receive mercy from his enemy.

Before watching the movie I had never noticed that the melody that is used as the songs for both of their reflections after being offered mercy is the same.  Same beautiful melody, but polar opposite reflections.  Valjean, the sinner, receives the free gift of mercy and grace with humility, and he goes on to live a beautiful life of freedom and generosity.  Javert, on the other hand, who happens to be known as a man of the law, cannot receive this free gift because of his pride.  Whereas these two enemies could have become brothers due to experiencing the same type of grace, Javert couldn't do it.  Javert would rather die than receive grace from a thief.

Each of us has been offered redemption, no doubt in many ways but especially by God.  What will we do with that redemption?  Receive it with humility or reject it because of our pride?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review of the story. Beautiful word pictures of Redemption. Thanking God for his mercy today.