Recently my young and beautiful wife took me to the theatre for my birthday and we saw the musical Les Miserables. Apart from the fact that it was a great show, what got at me was the unstated question, “can people change?” I will not spoil the plot for those who have not seen it, but the main character is Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal, who spent 19 years doing hard labour for his crime, stealing bread to feed his starving sister and her family. He has paid his debt to society, but because he was still on parole nobody will employ him or even give him somewhere to sleep. He becomes angry and bitter, everything seems hopeless. Then the Bishop opens his home, feeds him and provides a warm dry place to sleep. Jean is thankful, he wants to do the right thing, but he also sees an opportunity for a new start… so he steals an assortment of the Bishop’s silverware and runs before anyone else is up.
Jean’s escape is foiled when he questioned by the local police who correctly surmise that the silverware in his bag was stolen. His story is that the bishop gave it to him! So, the bishop is called and affirms that it was indeed a gift, in fact he brings with him the matching silver candle sticks and gives them to Jean as well! This gracious act starts Jean on a new course, over time becoming a successful businessman who constantly seeks to help others.
The other main player is Javert, the prison warder (chain gang overseer of Jean) who becomes the fanatic police inspector, who believes that people can’t change – once a convict always a convict! Several times he sees Jean (who is now using an assumed name) and suspects that he is Jean, that no good criminal who absconded from parole and therefore needs to be re-incarcerated. He refuses to believe that Jean could change, even when Jean risks his own life to save him! Javert is totally conflicted, he finally recognises that this man has changed but his own inflexible interpretation to the law means that he cannot let him go! He chooses to commit suicide instead!
Do we believe that people can change? What would you do if the person you were trying to help stole from you? Would you tell the police it was a gift and offer to give them the candle sticks as well? I would struggle with that, yet that is the grace that Jesus calls us to offer, and what Jesus himself did for us.
“God saved you by his special favour when you believed.
And you can’t take any credit for this; it is a gift from God.
Salvation is not a reward for the good things that we have done,
so none of us can boast about it.”
Padre Ian Whitley
I S Whitley AM