Grace and Les Miserables 2020 Study Information
Grace Well Received: The Story of Jean Valjean
Matt Rawle provides a summary of Jean Valjean’s predicament when faced with an act of grace.
Jean Valjean experiences transformation following an encounter with a priest named Bishop Myriel. Myriel welcomed Valjean, who had been released from jail, and offered him a place to rest. At night, while the household was sleeping, Valjean stole the bishop’s silverware and fled. He was caught. Rather than press charges, the bishop covered for him and offered him his silver candlesticks, telling the authorities he had offered them, along with the silverware, to Valjean in order to get him back on his feet. Valjean did not understand the bishop actions, but neither could he shake their consequences. Valjean had been given a gift. How would he respond? (8)
How you would have reacted when faced with this amazing gift of grace? Jean Valjean reacted by turning his life around, become a successful businessman, and by helping others. Rather than have another man go to jail for the crime he committed (stealing bread to feed his sister’s family), he revealed his true identity and was ready to face the consequences imposed by Javert. Would you have had such courage?
What acts of courage are we seeing right now by healthcare workers who risk their health and their lives by caring for people who are ill with this insidious disease of Coronavirus? What can we do to help support them? Some of my friends are sewing masks for healthcare workers. The Washington National Cathedral uncovered crates of N95 masks in their basement (probably from a construction project) and donated them to healthcare workers. In France every evening people are clapping from their windows as they self-isolate to let the healthcare workers and first responders know that they are appreciated. What can we do to show them our support, other than practicing social distancing, which they have asked us to do. The following video is from “down under” but the message is universal:
God gave us his Son as an act of grace and mercy so that we could be spared. Jesus went to the cross with courage and the knowledge that what he was doing would save others. God calls us to be like His Son. How will we respond to this act of grace? May we hear God’s call and be grateful for His grace and mercy.
“Gracious God, you have demonstrated great love for us in Jesus. Help us today to learn how better to respond to your grace, discerning right from wrong. Then, may we boldly take action in light of the good gifts we have received from you. Amen.” (10)
“Lord Jesus, we find grace in you. Teach us to walk according to your way. Send the Holy Spirit. Fill us, empower us, and embolden us, leading us to do the will of God, receiving your grace and always choosing that which is pleasing in your sight. Amen.” (16)
Javert – When Grace and Justice Collide
“God reveals justice against our sins” and “ God offers grace by assuming the punishment”. This collision occurs on the cross with Jesus.
Valjean has done wrong but seeks to change, to do what is good and right to the best of his ability. Javert defines his way of life by his understanding of what is right versus wrong, with an emphasis on precisely following the letter of the law with little or no room for compromise or understanding of grace.
How do you define justice? When does mercy prevail over the law? How do you deal with ethical dilemmas? What is righteousness?
Righteousness is “living in a way that honors God in all things” or simply striving to do what is right. The difficulty comes in trying to balance the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Jesus came to bring about balance in this. Order is needed and chaos makes things difficult but even change can be challenging.
Jesus comes to teach us, to align us with God’s will and ways, to “recalibrate” us. Lent is a time for recalibration as we study and reflect on God’s word. Valjean worked at this recalibration but Javert was dedicated to his job as enforcer. As he encountered Valjean’s changed lifestyle, Javert’s way of life was challenged, forcing him to the edge of his belief structure. To let go of what he believed was right would destroy his way of life. Valjean had shown him a glimpse of grace.
Scripture is to inform, instruct, and train us. Our relationships on earth help us form our understanding of our world, its cultures, and its peoples. Our relationship and understanding of God impacts how we love God, love others and love self. Assumptions about people or God can be off-base or shortsighted. It takes an effort to know people fully. To know God is a life long journey to grasp the vast expanse of all God (the Trinity) has been, is and will be. Scripture “helps us to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.
Gracious God, you are a God of order and justice. You have given us your commands, and they are intended for our good. But there are times that keeping your Law becomes difficult, and we struggle in discerning how best to honor the spirit of your commands, and not only the letter. Help us to learn how to do so. Keep us far from the sin of legalism, and instead teach us the ways of your grace; in Jesus’ name. Amen
God, you are just and you know what is right. Make us into people who keep your commands, but do so in a way that always honors you. Help us always reflect your grace, your mercy, your understanding. May we never shy away from the truth or refrain from doing what is right. May we be bold, courageous, and strong, but also meek, merciful, and kind. Amen
The Poor are Always with Us: Fantine
Matt Rawle provides this account of Fantine’s tragic life and her “fall from grace”:
Fantine enters Les Misérables as a beautiful young woman whose life is full of promise. But that does not last long. Fantine becomes pregnant after a relationship with a young aristocrat, who then abandons her. She is stigmatized as a single mother after the birth of her daughter, Cosette. Fantine is extorted by the family she hires to care for her daughter and later ostracized and shamed when her status as an unwed mother becomes known. She becomes impoverished and eventually resorts to prostitution to survive. She suffers greatly, and her story raises many questions about the causes of poverty and the failings of a society. She dies comforted by the fact that Jean Valjean has promised to care for her child. (28)
What do you believe are the causes of poverty? Is it always from bad personal choices or is it sometimes from system failures in society (greed, selfishness, injustice)? Or sudden and unexpected disasters (earthquakes, pandemics)?
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus tells us to care for the poor and “the least among us.” What, specifically, can we do, as Christians, to help with the poor or people who are suddenly in dire circumstances due to the current Coronavirus pandemic? We can join a social media platform (e.g., NextDoor) to offer to buy and safely deliver food and supplies to the most vulnerable among our neighbors. We can contact our fellow parishioners who are elderly or disabled and offer to bring them what they need. This is a time for mercy and compassion and not for judgment or estrangement due to our different ways of viewing the world. We need to share God’s love in deed (to the extent that we are able) as well as in word.
“Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)
Holy Spirit, make us bold. Give us wisdom and help us grow in grace, and as we do so, show us where we can meet the needs of others. You have blessed us abundantly in your Son. May we be grateful for the gifts of eternal and abundant life that we have through Him and demonstrate our gratitude through charity and love. Amen.
The Gift of Love: The Story of Marius and Cosette
Matt Rawle provides a summary of the love story of Marius and Cosette.
Cosette is the daughter of Fantine. Her story is one of longing and hope; and the reader, knowing her family background, desires to see Cosette find love and happiness. Marius is a French Romantic who leaves behind the privilege of the aristocratic class to make his own way in the world. Marius falls in love with Cosette and eventually wins her heart. Cosette and Marius introduce a romantic element into the story of Les Miserables, raising questions about the meaning of love (37).
How have you experienced God’s gift of love? How has God’s gift of love changed you? Have you experienced God’s love through the love of another person? You may wish to read the famous passage of love which is found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This passage is usually read at marriage ceremonies. But it is a passage meant to describe the love that we have for each other.
What acts of love have you seen during this time when we keep our distance from each other? We can no longer give a person a hug. Children of people in hospitals and nursing home facilities cannot come and see their parents. We must find other ways to love each other. I know that many people are reaching out to others in an effort to maintain our connections. I have received phone calls and emails from people and I just appreciate how they have reached out to show that they care or me. Others are making a special effort to help those who are needy. I love the hymn God is Love. You can listen to it on Youtube at this link
The famous passage from the gospel of John reminds us of God’s love. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16
“Dear God, we often hear that you are a God of love. Some in our midst can testify that they have experienced your love or have come to understand your love through faith in Jesus. Help us grow in our understanding of love, for we know that if we are your people, the world should look upon us and Say, “See how they love one another.” Teach us and give us grace, so that we may love as you love.” (38)
“Loving God, help us to love all people in your name. Help us to be patient, kind, long-suffering, and committed to the truth. May we leave behind childish ways and mature in your love, knowing deeply and fully that your love for us is sue and unshakeable, and standing in the confidence that we are loved, may we extend that same love tom people of every tribe, tongue, and nation with humility, respect, and gentleness. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen. (44)
Building the Barricade: The Story of Les Amis
Matt Rawle compares the revolution attempted by people in Paris in 1832 with the revolution that Jesus brought about through his life, death and resurrection.
As a historical novel, Les Miserable tells about the political environment in France in the early 1830s. In the book, the Friends of the ABC (Les Amis) challenge the French monarchy by advocating for a Republican form of government. The monarchy and the aristocratic class are blamed for the problems of French society. The Friends of the ABC claim to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed. They believe new leadership would yield a more just society. Their efforts lead to a street fight between their sympathizers and the French National Guard. The French National Guard are victorious and the revolutionaries are crushed (46).
The book causes us to consider the societal problems that lead people to call for revolutionary change. What societal problems do you see in the world today? Do you think there is a way for the concerns of people to be heard and addressed? Can societal change be realized apart from violence? When people want change, they often advocate for a totally different system, a new set of rules that will solve all of the problems. Sometimes, revolution is the answer. The United States was created through a revolution that allowed the people to create their own form of government. But the Revolutionary War did not solve all the problems and the new nation struggled, especially in its early years. Not all revolutions are successful. Some are crushed just as the one in the book Les Miserables was crushed. Sometimes revolutions that are well-intentioned lead to violence and loss.
Consider the celebration that we have on Palm Sunday. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people shouted “Hosanna” which means save us. Many of those people were asking Jesus to be a revolutionary figure that would lead them to rebel against Roman authority. Do you think that is what happened? Was Jesus crucified because he was seen as a revolutionary to the political leaders in Jerusalem?
Jesus gave us a revolution in a different way. It is found in the gospel of Matthew 5:43-48 which says in part, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.” How might we live this way?
“Gracious God, you sent your son into the world to demonstrate what it means to live a life fully under your care. Jesus has called us to love You and to love our neighbor, and has modeled for us a different way of life, one of love, peace, and justice. Forgive us for causing harm and help us to learn to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Amen.” (48)
“Lord Jesus, thank you for showing us another way to live. We pray that God will deliver us from the temptation of violent revolution and give us the grace we need to instead participate in God’s revolution of love - that God’s way would come and will be done here as in heaven.” (54)
The Blessed Garden: A Hopeful Vision
Matt Rawle wrote about the use of Gardens in Les Miserables and compares those to three of the gardens that we find in Scripture.
There are at least three times when Gardens take a central role in Les Miserables. The generous priest, M. Bienvenu, who gave Jean Valjean candlesticks and allowed him to take the silverware, has a garden. M. Beinvenu would take daily walks in the garden where he would find himself in the presence of God. Those walks helped him to keep his mind on the “things that are from above”. When Jean Valjean was on the run from the policeman Javert, he and Cosette found refuge in a garden in a convent. Valjean worked in the garden for many years. When Cosette and Marius came to know each other, they expressed their love in the garden where Cosette and Valjean lived. It was said to be unruly and wild. Three gardens, one which was a place of peace, one which was a place of work, and one which was an unruly place of passionate love.
Matt Rawle compared these three gardens in the book to three important gardens in Scripture. The first is the garden of Eden. God shared peace and love and bountiful grace in that garden with Adam and Eve. But Adam and Eve were interested in the tree and looked to creation for goodness and delight rather than the goodness, delight and love that God shared with them. The second garden that Matt Rawle referred to was the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a place of suffering, anguish, and betrayal. Jesus was buried in a garden. When Mary came to the tomb on Easter morning, she mistook Jesus for a gardener. The final garden is described in the Book of Revelation. God will create a new heaven and a new earth. All of creation will find peace in that place. We will see the face of God and we will rest in God’s love for all eternity.
What memories do you have of a garden and how did it impact you? Is Jesus a gardener? Gardens are a place of rest. How do you find rest on the day of the Sabbath? How do you cultivate and steward God’s creation in your life? What is your image of heaven?
Holy Spirit, come and renew us. Open our hearts to receive your word in the way good soil is receptive to life-bearing seed. Let the love of God take hold and become rooted in us, springing up and bringing forth the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
God, you are the true master gardener. Please, help us to abide in Jesus, drawing our life from him, the true vine. May we bring you glory in all we do. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Last modified on Monday, 06 April 2020 20:27
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