I love the musical Les Miserables. When I was in 7th grade, I saw it on Broadway in New York. Since then I have seen it at least six other times and every time I listen to the soundtrack, my heart is touched at a deep level. The grace, the humanity, the forgiveness. It is a beautiful story that is as applicable today as ever.
The story of Les Miserables was first written by Victor Hugo to recount the French Revolution. It is one of the most acclaimed musicals. Many flock to the story, yet I wonder how many… especially in our country, actually reflect on the story… on the characters.
As I was mowing the yard… more like leaves… today I listened the music from Les Mis. It hit me of how we each view ourselves. I first wondered if we see ourselves as Jean Valjean or Javert and then stopped and wondered if some of us see ourselves as the priest. All three characters are critical in the musical, yet each saw… approached the world if vastly different perspectives.
It seems as though we are a self-righteous culture, believing we are the epitome of God’s love and the standard for others. With this thinking, we would identify with the priest…. yet this thinking in our society today is flawed… if we all actually were the priest, I do believe we would find ourselves in a better world than what we experience. Grace would be our lead instead of judgement and condemnation.
So if we are not the priest, then surely we are Jean Valjean. We see that we have made mistakes, but through our mistakes we have made the world a better place. We see the grace and love we have been shown by others (the priest) and return the same love and grace to others. We find our mission in life to repay the goodness that has been bestowed on our lives. We see we must make a better life for others than what we had. This is our mission because of those who believed in us. We see our life defined by the grace bestowed upon us so we want to pay it forward…
In reality, I truly believe we are Javert…. yet none of us wants to admit we are the despicable character that was unable to bestow grace, redemption on the main character of Jean Valjean. It is easy to care about a fictional character in a musical that has no impact on my daily life. It is easy to critique Javert because to do so is easier than realize our actions are more like his than any other character.
Javert’s fault is that he saw life from only his standpoint. He was a person “from the gutter too.” He had pulled himself up from his bootstraps so his expectations was for everyone to do the same. His world was very black and white… you either followed the rules or you didn’t… there was no room for grey. His religion followed the same thinking (yes his religion followed this thinking, instead of his thinking following his religion). His thinking led to his obsession with Jean Valjean. In his thinking there was no room for change, redemption, or grace… His thinking led to his death because he could not accept the grace from others which he had despised.
How many of us, if we are honest, find ourselves in this line of thinking? While we want to believe we are the priest… with grace abounding for those who are different, we don’t show this love to those different than us. If we aren’t the priest, maybe at least we are Jean Valjean… maybe we have made mistakes and try to pass on the grace that was given to us… The problem is that we are neither. Our thinking of such grace and redemption is stopped at the end of the musical… for when we get into real life, we are judgmental and as narrow thinking as Javert. We would be wise to learn from those characters we love so much. They have more to teach us than a catchy toon.
In the end we are each character. We each are as judgmental as Javert, in need of grace like Jean Valjean, and have the ability to show redemption in the same way as the priest. Which do we choose to live out?