Giving Grace

I loved the musical Les Miserables before loving Les Miserables was cool. But my love grew exponentially when I read the novel. There is so much beauty in Hugo’s story, so much truth. My favorite part is right at the beginning. Jean Valjean is released from prison and is treated like trash by every villager he comes in contact with. Until he stops by a bishop’s home. This man of God is the first person to treat Jean Valjean like a person. He gives him food, using his best dishes. He gives him a real room with a real bed. And Valjean repays him by stealing from this bishop and running away in the middle of the night. Valjean is caught and returned to the bishop’s home. The bishop looks into the bag, filled with silver from his home – the home he opened to this man – and instead of condemning Jean Valjean, the bishop gives him more, sending the police away.

Then he says what is probably my favorite line in the novel: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.  It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

For the first time in his life, Jean Valjean is shown grace: he is given what he does not deserve.  And Jean Valjean takes that gift, that grace, and he becomes a great man, a compassionate man, a man who showered grace on others throughout his life.

The Bishop is symbolic of Christ; Jean Valjean, fallen humanity. It is a beautiful symbol, one that gets to me every time I see it, read it, or hear it. As much as I love Cosette’s “Cinderella” story, the love story between she and Marius, the political statements and social implications, it is the grace shown in this story that, I believe, is truly at its heart.

That is why I love this story so much, because it teaches me about grace, it challenges me to give grace more often, with liberality. It reminds me that grace is truly amazing.

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