Actor’s Devotional from Oct. 8th

Posted: April 15, 2009 in Devotionals
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Actor’s Devotional


The bishop approached him and said, in a low voice, ‘Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’ Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued solemnly, ‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

–Victor Hugo from Les Miserables


Les Miserables is one of the most enduring stories of the 19th, 20th, and now the 21st century.  The story, originally a novel (1862) written by Victor Hugo, follows the long and winding life of the tale’s hero Jean Valjean.


At the outset Jean’s parents both die and leave him to fend in the world for himself.  Eventually, after years of having to steal his food, he winds up in prison.  His original sentence is not all that long, but he tries to escape (3 times) and fails, each time adding more time to his original sentence.  After 19 years Jean finally is released from prison and makes his way back to Montreuil where he hopes to retain a job and lodgings.  But because he is on parole, as attested to by his yellow parole papers, and because he must show his papers to anyone he works for or lives with, he is taken advantage of and has a hard time finding a place to stay.  But one man, a kindly priest, takes pity on him and invites him in to stay with him.  Jean promptly agrees, but that night when the old man is asleep, Jean steals all the silver except the candlesticks in the house and makes his escape.  He is quickly caught however, but when he is presented before the priest with his booty the old man insists that the silver was a gift from himself to Jean Valjean, and by the way he says, “You forgot the candlesticks”.  The kindly priest adds them to Jean’s sack, and at the same time adds to his confusion.  Later when the authorities have left, the priest tells Jean hat God has spared him from prison for a reason, and that Jean should go and sin no more.


Jumping ahead Jean is now Monsieur Madeleine (another form of Magdalene) and he has used his wealth, acquired from the sale of the silver, to become quite prosperous.  He has even become the Mayor of Montreuil.  There is only one problem with that.  The policeman who originally had Jean put away is suspicious that Jean may very well be Monsieur Madeleine.  One Madeleine’s employees (Fantine) had been sending money to her illegitimate daughter, and had subsequently lost her position, on Madeleine’s authority, because she was considered a low woman for having such a daughter.  Having thus fired her she is driven in desperation to prostitution, where she comes to the attention of the very same police officer Javert.   Javert whose name which loosely translated would probably mean “to turn from bright” becomes more sure than ever that Madeleine is Jean Valjean, when Jean comes to have Fantine freed.  He is upset with himself for the harsh treatment she has received because he did not know her story, and wants her to suffer no further on his account.  This happens, but now Javert is on the trail and determined to send Jean back to prison because he is a fraud.  Soon, Javert has the proof he needs as another man is about to be convicted… for being, of all things, the “real Jean Valjean”.  Of course Jean cannot stand by and let this happen so he throws himself on the mercy of the court and admits whom he really is.  Jean is sent back to prison, and is scheduled to die.  However, the king shows mercy and commutes his sentence to life in prison.  After only a short while Jean Valjean escapes again.


Soon after, Fantine has fallen so ill that she is about to die.  Because Jean’s very soul is caught up in treating people fairly and living well he feels bound to care for Fantine’s child… Cossette.  After her death he seeks out the girl and pledges to care for her.  She has been in the care of a family that has stolen all the money Cossete’s mother had sent throughout the years, and spent it on themselves and their own daughter… Eponine.  Jean (now calling himself Monsieur LeBlanc) actually buys the poor girl from them, and for a while they live in relative peace… but Javert is always out there, still looking for them both.  So the two fugitives flee to the inner city of Paris.


Of course no true comedy would be complete without the love interest and this story is no exception.  Marius is a wealthy, handsome young student involved with the student uprising movement sweeping through Paris at the time.  Cossette and Mario meet and eventually fall in love, and have decided to leave France altogether, because of his families disapproval of his loving such a low creature as Cossette.  But Cossette has lived such a quiet secluded, secretive life with Jean that she’s not sure how to handle disclosing this information to him.  Into this complicated state of affairs Eponine re-enters the story.   The student activists are now taking to the streets and have formed a barricade from which to fight the government from behind.  Eponine has disguised herself as a man to be able to be close to Marius whom she has recently met and fallen in love with.  In the ensuing action she dies, although Marius had recognized her and tried to get her to safety by sending a not to Cossette which he asked Eponine to carry.  She, however, stays and perishes.  In fact all the rebels perish except for Marius and Jean Valjean, and Marius is gravely wounded.  And let us not forget Inspector Javert.  He had been dressed up as a rebel and spying on them for the government and was caught in the act.  Jean however saved Javert from certain death, but now as Jean is escaping with the injured Marius through the sewers of Paris, Javert comes across both and arrests jean on the spot.  After an impassioned speech from Valjean, Javert agrees to let the two men seek medical attention.  Javert is so aggrieved at the low state to which he has sunk that in a fit of pique he commits suicide.


The story quickly reaches its climax afterward.  Marius and Cossette are married, and though her “parents” (the actual parents of Eponine) show up at the wedding trying to ingratiate themselves to, and insinuate themselves in, the wealthy family Marius is not fooled.  Cossette has told him all.  Marius punches Cossette’s would be father in the nose, and the young married couple set of to find Jean Valjean, her true father, on his death bed.  Here jean confesses all, asks for forgiveness, is assured that he needs none and is the greatest of men, and (as he dies) is led by Eponine and Fantine upon the path to heaven.  It was on this day in 1985 that the musical “Les Miserables” would make its English language debut in the West End of London… it would continue non-stop for 21 years.


The redemptive arc of the story is clear. But in case we missed it, even the names Mr. Hugo uses for Jean lead us to this unmistakable conclusion.  For at first he is Jean Valjean, basically a French version of John Smith. Later he is Ultime Fauchelevent, which when parsed would basically mean “the ultimate wind chaser”.  Then he is Monsieur Madeleine, or mister Magdalene… a clear reference to the forgiven harlot or sinner.  Finally he is Monsieur LeBlanc… Mister White.  He is forever pursued by Javert or one who inverts the purpose of the light.  Javert loves the law but fails to see the reason for the law is to point out transgression, so that character may be reformed.  It is not a mallet with which to bludgeon people to death with.  And so, when confronted by mercy, unable to handle what he believes to be true and what is reality, he takes his own life… for he sees his whole life has been a sham.  Valjean was a mess of a man, who by meeting God was transformed little by little into Leblanc.  Javert was the shining man, who kept all the rules and made sure everyone else kept them too.  This then is a mythic retelling of the two great mindsets of faith, Law and Grace, Mercy and Legalism.  Christians have been having this debate for centuries, that of which path is the true path, the better path.  Victor Hugo asked those same questions, answered them with an epic novel that begs but one further question.  Ask yourself who you’d rather be in the end… Javert or Valjean.


Romans 8:1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.


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