Well it took a little longer than I had planned, but I managed to finish Victor Hugo's (unabridged!) Les Miserables yesterday. (NOTE: If you haven't seen the movie or read the book, be warned that this post is full of spoilers!)
It was beautiful and powerful, amazingly written and woven and expressed... I love the characters like they are my own friends, and cried as each one died. Did I mention almost everyone dies? Ok, so it was terribly depressing and tragic most of the time - what do you expect? it's about miserable people in miserable circumstances. But often times, the smallest glint of the light of love is most evident and most powerful in the darkest places.
When I read "The End," I was actually a little sad... I stared at those two words for a few minutes, wondering about the life of Marius and Cosette, the only to remaining characters in the story whose futures were not known. While I'm sure they lived an easier and happier life that Valjean, I hope they lived with as much purpose and passion as he did... I can't imagine how they couldn't.
The overwhelming theme that I witnessed throughout the story was the powerful effects of grace and mercy.When someone chooses to act in a way that is good, selfless, and merciful - even if the act is a very hard or risky thing to do - it causes a reaction. The one receiving the act of kindness can choose to reject it, accept it for their benefit, or allow it to fill them up to pour into others. The good Bishop risked his comfort and safety to show mercy to Valjean, and from that choice, Valjean's life was changed. He rescued the weak, the poor, the outcast, the hopeless, and the lonely. He extended mercy to his enemies, protected the vulnerable, defended the innocent, and sacrificed his own happiness for the sake of others'. And his choices had a ripple effect, touching so many more lives than he would ever know. Fantine found the courage to hope because she had been given hope; Cosette found the courage to love and trust because she had been shown love; Marius found the courage to forgive and reconcile because he had been rescued and redeemed...
Sound like the gospel to anyone?
I've been spending some time studying 2 Corinthians 9:12-15 this week, and thinking how anything good in me, any good thing I choose to do, has its root in the gospel of grace. It is because of one act of mercy and grace - that while I was still one of "les miserables" Christ came and died in my place, and conquered sin and death so that I could be redeemed and made whole. What an indescribably gift - and this is truth! He did this! And each of us must decide how we will respond to his choice to extend mercy and grace. Like Javert, will you reject it and cling to the law and all its condemnation, putting faith in cold perfection of legal justice that cannot be attained and will never bring peace and joy? Or like Marius, will we be so overwhelmed by what he has done for us that we run to his arms and call him "Father" and experience all the love and freedom and life he has to offer?
And those of us who receive the great gift... how then do we live in response to it? None of the characters in the book responded to grace in reluctant obligation or guilt-imposed bondage. Their great, selfless, heroic deeds were an overflow of what they had received - a passionate compulsion to love others because they had been loved; to pour out mercy because they had been shown mercy. Once you accept the indescribable gift of God, watch how it fills you to overflowing and leads you to pass it on.