Les Mis. “The miserables.” We all know this musical based on the book by Victor Hugo and I don’t know about you, but I love it. The music, ensemble work, sets, and lights are amazing. But there is so much more to this very long and very famous French musical. There are many parallels to Scripture and the Christian life in Les Mis, so much so that this show brings me to tears again and again. The overarching idea of grace and mercy is remarkable, but there are so many specific instances where you see this.
In the first few minutes after the curtain comes up, the Bishop compassionately opens his arms to this convict on parole when no one else offers to help him, “What we have, we have to share.” In response to this, Jean Valijean takes advantage of him by stealing from him and running in the night. Valijean is caught and the Bishop then sacrificially gives him his more treasures, “You forgot I gave these also/ Would you leave the best behind?” The Bishop gives someone what they in no way deserve with no praise or thanks in exchange, this is a prime example of how our God bestows grace upon us even though we are disobedient and put our hope in things other than Him.
In this same scene, Jean Valijean comes to see this act of grace for what it is. The Bishop had no reason to intervene for Valijean before he would be arrested again, but gives him his freedom and more treasures anyway. “You must use this precious silver/ To become an honest man,” says the Bishop which leads Valijean to see this act of grace as a turn to obedience, “One word from him and I'd be back… Instead he offers me my freedom.” Valijean’s realization of what he has been given definitely brings on the tears. When we did nothing but turn away from God in sin and disobedience, He sent His Son to be our sacrifice. Because of this gift of grace, we respond in obedience to Him because we have seen what love is.
In this turn to obedience solely because of grace, we also see the new life that begins. “Jean Valjean is nothing now/ Another story must begin!” parallels to 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” A new story begins for us as we have been given a new heart and new life through the work of the Holy Spirit. How cool it is to see this complete life change on stage.
This act of grace and new life changed everything for Valijean. He realizes that he has been given so much in his new life and he responds by serving others. Valijean assures Fantine that her “Cosette... Shall live in my protection.” As Christians, because we have been given what we do not deserve and have a prime example of how to live, should be quick to serve others humbly and joyfully. I can’t help but think of what it would be like for all Christians to respond to grace by serving others with our time, energy, and money without thinking twice.
While it is so cool to see the change that happens in Valijean, we can’t ignore his enemy: Javert. Javert has made it his life mission to get Valijean locked up again; he will not stop until justice is served. He tries to be the justifier instead of letting the Lord be the only justifier in His righteousness. Javert proclaims, “He knows his way in the dark/ Mine is the way of the Lord/ Those who follow the path of the righteous/ Shall have their reward.” We, too, are often like Javert trying to catch others for their sins and taking over a role that is not ours, instead of realizing how unrighteous we are apart from a perfect God. Read Romans 3, it shows us how our God is always righteous in juxtaposition to our unrighteousness apart from His Son’s sacrifice.
And finally, the finale. This is the most moving part of the whole show as life and death are shown as the people unite and revel in the greatness of freedom to come as “There is a flame that never dies./ Even the darkest night will end/ And the sun will rise./ We will live again in freedom… Do you hear the people sing?/ Say, do you hear the distant drums?/ It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!” I think of the truth found in Philippians 2:10-11 “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And just as the people dream of the future in song I imagine the people of God crying out as John describes in Revelation 19:6-7 “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory.”
Les Misérables is a beautiful picture of new life in the forgiveness of God in His unwavering mercy and grace and the hope that one-day we will all gather and glorify Him for He is the Almighty who gives us real freedom.