“Les Miserables has had a more profound influence on my life than anything else I have ever read other than the scriptures.” Vaughn J. Featherstone, The Incomparable Christ Our Master and Model, p. 186.
This is part II of a II part series. Part I was published on 9/18/2013, and focused on the life of Fantine.
As you will remember from my last post, I love Fantine’s character. She reminds me that sometimes even through no fault of our own we must make the hard choices and sometimes those hard choices are devastating. She is a tragic character in every sense of the word, and her “holiness” for lack of a better term is almost unmarred. She is the bright light in a world of darkness even when at her most downtrodden.
Jean Valjean is an entirely different sort. Jean is a reader’s dream, and a theologian’s delight. He is the gray that actually exists in the world; the gray that exists in all of us. With Fantine, her redemption is deserved on every level, with Jean we will have to wait and see.
When we first meet Jean he is a prisoner (bad guy alert!, right?) Well, maybe not so much. We come to find that he has been arrested for stealing bread to feed his family members. Again, like Fantine, here is a decision made out of desperation. Can such an act truly be morally repugnant? Can it be morally justified? Jean ultimately escapes from prison and takes shelter at a Church. While at the Church he steals the good silver from the Priest. He is captured and brought back to the Church where the Priest claims that he has not stolen anything and lets him keep the silver.
Pause for a minute on that. As we discussed, Jean was initially imprisoned due to a gray area infraction. However, both the betrayal of the trust put in him by the Priest, and the actual theft itself cannot be excused can it? What of the immense act of mercy by the Priest? Is this act of mercy reminiscent of Christ’s mercy for us even when we are stupid, and selfish, and take things for granted?
Jean goes on to run a business, meets Fantine, pledges to find and care for her daughter Cosette, and raises her to adulthood. All the while, he is being hunted by Javert who knows he is the escaped prisoner. Jean must move frequently and quickly in order to avoid being captured and to keep his commitment to Fantine. Everywhere he goes, he carries one of the silver items he stole from the Priest as a reminder of the good that was done for him.
Ultimately, Jean does die. When he is dying he is assured that he has failed, and his life has been all bad and that he cannot be worthy of any love or forgiveness from either human beings or a supreme deity. He is wrong.
Jean’s rises and falls, stops and starts, and zigzagging journey through life is our own. We are all every day effectively starting anew with a new opportunity to do right. Some days we steal the silver and fail miserably and some days we keep commitments to our friends no matter how hard they may be. Through it all, our worthily unworthy lives are waiting for that validation; waiting for that love. We all want to be embraced, and told “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” We want to be welcomed by our dear departed as Jean was by Fantine. We want to share in that joy together; a joy that only a life that has known how bitter the fruit has tasted can understand and can truly appreciate the milk and honey of the Gospel. Redemption in its truest fashion is to be received into the presence of God, our divine potential fulfilled and our true home realized once again. No longer the miserable ones, but the exalted ones.