'Les Mis' has lessons to teach us
One of my favorite musicals, "Les Miserables," came out on the big screen this week.
It's a sweeping story of grace and redemption set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. My favorite scene is close to the beginning, an interaction that changes the course of the main character's life.
The main character, Jean Valjean, has been in prison for 19 years -- five for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, the rest because he tried to run.
When he finally gets released, no one will take him in for the night, because he has an identification card that labels him as a convict. Valjean gets more and more discouraged and bitter. He finally meets the town's bishop, who takes him in and gives him as much food as he wants and a warm bed to sleep in.
But Valjean's heart is still hard.
"The old fool trusted me and done his bit of good," he sings. "I played the grateful serf and thanked him like I should."
After the bishop goes to bed, Valjean gathers up the expensive silverware he'd been eyeing during dinner and sneaks out of the house.
He gets picked up by the police and taken back to the bishop.
"Tell his reverence your story," the police jeer when they bring Valjean to the man he'd betrayed. "Let us see if he's impressed. You were lodging here last night, you were the honest bishop's guest. And then out of Christian goodness, when he heard about your plight, he'd maintained you made a present of this silver ... "
"That is right," interrupts the bishop. He turns to Valjean and hands him two silver candlesticks. "But, my friend, you left so early, something surely slipped your mind. You forgot I gave these also; would you leave the best behind?"
The bishop thanks the policemen for doing their duty and tells them they are free to leave.
The bishop turns to Valjean again.
"But remember this, my brother," he sings. "See in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man."
The next day, Valjean steals from someone else, but feels so convicted by the kindness the bishop showed him that he returns what he stole.
There are a lot of other subplots throughout the show, but Valjean uses the rest of his life doing good for others. Undoubtedly, if the bishop hadn't taken a chance on Valjean and had faith in him, Valjean's life would have turned out very differently.
At the end of the show, Valjean sings that "to love another person is to see the face of God." Hardly the attitude of the embittered man we saw at the beginning.
I hope when I'm presented with the opportunity that the bishop had, I err on the side of grace. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.