The Les Miserables Bishop: An Example for Us All

If the Gospel of “turn the other cheek” ever feels like it demands too much… When bitterness and anger seep into our hearts, love is the answer to the attack. Forgiveness disarms anger; just look at the Bishop in Les Mis by Victor Hugo, which is now a hugely popular musical turned film.

Valjean approaches the Bishop in the new film, Les Miserables.

In in a time of great turmoil, between the French Revolution and the lesser known revolution in 1842, life was hard, people lived in poverty, corrupt law officers abounded. Released after 19 years in prison, hardened convict Jean Valjean attempts to make his way in the world.
He first meets a bishop who takes him in and allows him to stay despite being a convict.

That is striking love! Imagine today if a ex-con knocked on your door. Would you feed him or let him stay the night? Well the bishop does. Score one for charity (aka agape).

Despite the compassion shown to him, Valjean wakes up in the night, steals the silverware (it’s really silver) of the household and makes off. In the morning, the police find him and bring him back to the Bishop. Valjean lies and tells the police that the Bishop gave him the silverware.
When the police bring Valjean back, he stares at the ground in shame before the Bishop. Does the Bishop get angry? Or thank the police? No. The bishop looks at them sternly and says (paraphrase), “Release this man. I indeed gave him the silverware. Valjean, why did you not take the candlesticks also.” He hands the convict the silver candlesticks to take on his way as well. The police leave, and Valjean stands dumbfounded before the Bishop’s unmerited act of mercy.

Showing undeserved mercy? Score two for following Christ.
“Why?” asks Valjean. The Bishop responds (to quote the musical): “By the witness of the martyrs. By the Passion and the Blood: God has raised you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God.” And Valjean acknowledges the gift and the takes the opportunity to turn his life around (which leads to the rest of the plot).

To the Bishop: Giving away all the silver you own: costs a fortune.
Giving a broken man a second chance and a new take on life: priceless.
Grand-slam for love.
As often as I think about this story, it amazes me more and more. With selfless disregard for himself, the Bishop plumbs the bottomless depth of forgiveness and love for the sake of Valjean. As he says in the musical, “By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood” (the suffering and death of Jesus Christ), God has raised man out of darkness. Good cleanses the hate from Valjean’s heart. Good gives life.

It is this impetus that inspires Jean Valjean to turn his life around and thus the basis for the rest of the plot.

And is the Bishop miserable without his silver? Far from it! He knows that by God working in him, he has helped show grace to Valjean, who then has the chance to respond, and thankfully he does. Living by example is the best form of evangelism.

This is a lesson for all of us. With anger and coming so easily into our hearts when we are hurt, it’s hard to respond with love. But the Bishop doesn’t get angry. Rather, when asked for his jacket, he gives the thief his shirt as well. And all are better for it.

Abundant love is amazing in that the more we give away, the more we get.

Do you think it’s possible to live as the bishop does in the story? Has anyone (besides God) ever given you an amazing second chance? What other examples are there of Christ’s redeeming love shining through people’s lives?

A Reflection on the Connecticut School Shooting

I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s because I had a baby back in August. And once the not-writing starts, it’s hard to stop.

But today’s terrible, inexplicable tragedy broke through. I remember the Batman shooting this summer; but this time, I am a parent and the victims are the beautiful, innocent bundles-of-joy of other mothers, just like me.

I cried for them today. For the little ones; for the mothers; for the fathers; for all the family, friends and teachers. Each one of lost held infinite value, as all lives do, as my son’s life does.

I cuddled him close and gazed gratefully into his gleaming gray eyes. And bless his three-month-old-heart, he just grinned back at me. He doesn’t know about evil yet or suffering. He has known nothing but love and gentle care. That is what every child deserves. Not death at the hands of a madman. Today we remember the truth that every moment with our moms, brothers, friends and daughters is a blessing.

Why did this happen? We feel compelled to ask this question as though the answer could make it all better. But it won’t.

There is no answer because there is nothing reasonable about murdering children.

And why have there been so many shootings this year? This is America; this is where men and women flee to escape violence in other parts of the world; this is the “land of opportunity.” We live on Main Street. This isn’t where citizens fear attending school.

I deeply believe that evil has no explanation. It is simply the negation of a good. Evil attacks good to pull it down and destroy it.

Nonetheless, I will hazard my best attempt at understanding these painful events. It’s not lack of harsh gun control laws that cause these attacks. Gun laws are an appealing, simple solution. But weapons are tools. Access to rifles did not lead a man to open fire in a classroom.

Why did a human being choose to end the lives of his young neighbors? Why did the Colorado gunman kill folks attending Batman? Why did another man shoot Congresswoman Giffords?

At one level, these attackers suffer deeply from mental and emotional trauma and irrational thoughts. I don’t say that by way of excuse, but just as a statement of how injured a mind and spirit they must have in order to commit these atrocities.

On another level, we as a society, as a community of neighbors are letting each other down. It’s so easy to live comfortably in general anonymity. I know I do. The social safety net of families and communities has been gradually ebbing away and along with it the cultivation of virtue and accountability. We stay out of other people’s business, “as long as it’s not hurting anyone.” But sadly, as we have seen far too often this year, eventually, it does hurt someone.

What if we really reached out to our neighbors? What if we offered ourselves when a friend or friend’s child was in need—before they asked for help?

I certainly don’t have a lot of answers, but I think we nowadays don’t see other people as relevant to us unless they are a friend or family member. What if we did?

God does. Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How pitifully short we fall. How pitifully short I fall. God, who watched his own son die from the malice of ruthless men, is with us. He is with the mourning families and He is with the departed children in Heaven.

He weeps for our sins, for our fallenness, for the way we hurt one another. Through Jesus, he has taught us another way, and He yearns for us to follow it.