Les Miserables–the dance of grace and truth
Turns out I like musicals. Who woulda thunk? Over the years my wife has shared her passion for theater with me and I am hooked. Musicals, like movies, teach me about the world. Les Miserables did just that. I watched the movie and felt as if God was shouting through the screen. It was beautiful.
Les Miserables taught me a profound lesson about grace and truth. It’s interesting, really. I think Jesus’ entire ministry can be summed up in those two words. In John 1:17 we read that “the law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.” Grace says “you are forgiven, even though you don’t deserve it”; truth says “you need this forgiveness.” Les Miserables makes a similar connection. Grace and truth are two themes we see throughout the film.
In the movie, Jean Vildean experiences this firsthand. You may remember his sticky fingers and the priest’s silver collection. After spending the night in the church, he leaves the next day only to be captured by the police. They return him to the priest, revealing he’s stolen many silver items from the church. Rather than pressing charges, the priest calls him ‘friend’ and says the silver was a gift, and that he forgot to take the candlesticks as well.
It’s a beautiful scene that is reminiscent of the gospel message. He is not condemned, but given another chance to go change his ways. He’s shown grace and truth.
There is another character in the film who misses this dynamic. His name is Javert, the captain of the guards. He’s prusured Jean Vildean over the years, never forgetting his debt to society which he must pay.
Javert’s fixation is with the truth. The truth is that Jean Vildean is a criminal. He stole. He committed a crime. This truth motivates Javert to pursue Viljean. By the end of the film, this truth has overtaken Javert’s entire life. Rather than let Viljean go, Javert commits suicide. He is unable to live with Viljean being a free man. Moreover, he’s unable to give grace.
I’ve come to see that grace and truth are inextricably linked in God’s vocabulary. Together they reveal the heart of God; separate, they miss distinctive parts of his message.
Jesus led with grace and followed up with truth. Kindness and acceptance of people led his actions, but that didn’t mean he ignored truth. Too many times well intentioned people forget to lead with grace. Instead they declare truth harshly, demanding penance for crimes. Later they attempt to show grace, but in the process have become judges. Perhaps they’ve forgotten the grace given to them.
Jean Viljean’s character is not only shown grace, but transformed by grace. It is the lens in which he sees life. He understands the truth of who he is and what he’s done, but also the power of grace to write a new story.
The Scripture I mentioned above in John 1 is connected with a scene in John 8. You may remember the story. A woman is caught in the act of adultery and brought before Jesus. The ‘truth’ of the law declared such a woman be stoned. Jesus invites the accusers to throw the stones, but gives them one condition. Whoever is without sin can throw the first stone. One by one the crowd disperses. Jesus then asks the woman “Has no one accused you?” Then he says “Neither do I (grace); Now go leave your life of sin” (truth).
Our lives should model Jesus’ approach. The truth is brokenness and sin covers us all. It’s true–we are incapable of saving ourselves. Grace, however, reminds us that someone else chose to save us.
Jesus tells us to drop the stones.
He is like the priest in Les Miserables handing us the candlesticks.
He reminds us that there is no condemnation for those in Him. And his words direct us to do the same for others.
Grace and truth are dance partners that reveal the heart of God. Les Miserables reminded me of that.
Question: What other themes stood out to you in Les Miserables?