Friday, February 22, 2013

Lesson from Les Miserables

by Rev. Felicia Fox

When we look at the world’s problems it is easy to feel over whelmed. How can one person stop world hunger, human trafficking, or any other injustice? The answer is you can’t. No one person has the power to change the world. However, each of us has the power to change one person’s life and that may cause the world to change. I was reminded of that lesson when I saw Les Miserables.

The story focuses on Jean Valjean who was imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his sister’s child. Once jailed he makes a failed attempt to escape and then spends the next nineteen years in prison. After he is paroled he is found by a Bishop and offered food and shelter for the night. Valjean steals his silver and is quickly caught. When the Bishop is asked about the silver he reports the silver was a gift and gives Valjean the best of his silver. This act of grace and generosity changes Valjean’s life and he takes the silver and changes his life.

The Bishop gave Valjean something more important than silver. He gave him forgiveness, love, and dignity. The bishop changed his life because he took the time to care and treat him with respect. He gave him a second chance. The Bishop didn’t change the whole world. Injustices still raged around him. However, he did change one life. Imagine the difference each of us could make if we begin to love everyone we encounter and treat them with respect and dignity. The bishop saw past Valjean’s present circumstances and saw his true value as a man.

The story moves forward eight years and finds Valjean as a factory owner and mayor. His foreman fires Fantine who is working to support her illegitimate daughter. Cosette, the daughter lives with an innkeeper and his wife. Fantine becomes a prostitute in order to support Cosette. Valjean saves Fantine from an attacker and takes her to the hospital where she dies. In the process she tells him about Cosette and he vows to raise the child.

Fantine did everything in her power to support her daughter. She loved Cosette with a selfless love. That loved changed Cosette’s life. Sometimes changing a person’s life may require we sacrifice. It may require we sacrifice some of our time, money, or energy. We serve a Christ who gave all he had because he loved each of us and we are called to follow his example. If you want to change someone’s life you must start by loving them the way Christ does.

Valjean is true to his word and raises Cosette as his own. The story jumps forward nine more years to show Valjean and Cosette as a happy family. He has become her father. He changed her life. France is now in the middle of a revolution led by Marius Pontmercy who has fallen in love with Cosette. She has fallen in love with him too. Valjean learns of this love and goes to the rebel front. During a fight between the rebels and the army Marius is injured. Valjean saves Marius by dragging him through the sewers to safety. He is saved and he can marry Cosette.

Sometimes changing someone’s life requires we get dirty. It requires that we experience the best and the worst of life with them. It may require we hold their hand while they are in the hospital or hug them when they are dirty or simply listen as they talk about their inner demons. If we are to truly love people enough to help them change their lives we must meet them where they are, even if it is a sewer.

As we live our faith in Jesus Christ may we be mindful of the people around us who are looking for a little help. Every day we are surrounded by people who are just waiting for someone to take notice, love them, and help them grow into different lives. May we be open to sharing grace and love with them.

Felicia Fox is the Minister of Youth and Children at First Baptist Church of Mount Olive, NC. This article originally appeared on her blog.

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