It’s a stunning story. A man is imprisoned for twenty years for stealing bread so he can feed his sister’s child. But in post-revolutionary France, once a convict, always a convict. Even after his release, no one trusts Jean ValJean. He is tempted to steal again but a kind bishop forgives him, gives him the candlesticks he tried to steal and tells him to live under the law of grace that has been extended to him.
And so he does. The rest of the epic movie Les Miserables shows a transformed Jean ValJean extending grace and kindness to the weak, the hurting, the children, a woman caught in the trap of prostitution, even to the man who would nail his hide to the wall of the law.
I thought this most recent movie version of Les Miserables was splendid. Yes, Russell Crowe is a little wooden in his performance. Yes, the movie was a little long (2:40). The scene of the partying poor is a bit silly, even tawdry and I squirmed as Anne Hathaway’s character sank into the trap of prostitution. Yet the kindness and mercy of Hugh Jackman’s character shone like a bright light in a dark era of history. Other than the Biblical account of what Jesus did for us, few other stories in historical literature rival this compelling tale of grace.
The movie has received mixed reviews. People either love it or hate it. I am not surprised at those who react negatively. The world will have trouble “getting” the message of grace, even when it is portrayed so superbly. Christianity Today’s website gives quotes from several critics including one from The New Yorker who called the movie “dreadful.”
I am surprised by the popularity the stage play and movie have garnered. One critic from the Los Angeles Times said, “You can walk into the theater as an agnostic, but you may just leave singing with the choir.” What is it that draws even the agnostic to this very Christian themed movie?
Here’s my speculation. The movie’s message is one we all cry out for. Have you ever had days where you want to put a sign on your back, “Love me in spite of me!” I used to have a button that was an acronym for “Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet.” We all want grace. We want someone to be kind to us in spite of how messed up we are, how ugly we are, what weak moments we have had in that hour or how unfit for society we may be.
PLEASE JUST LOVE ME
And so Christ has. Christ did more than Jean Valjean did. Christ became the convict. Christ stood in front of the Jean Valjeans and Fontaines and Ebonys of this world and said to the Javerts, “Here. Take me. Punish me. Let these go free.”
If you are a Christ follower, you have been set free. Christ calls you to mirror his grace to those who long for it. We can show the world that that kindness and grace expressed Les Miserables is not just a dream. It’s for real. And the dream can belong to each of us.