Their hands and feet are in chains. The scenery begins with the misery of deplorable labor camp conditions; and if a prisoner dies, another takes their place. Life is expendable and short lived in this hell on earth. Their words echo and resound in our hearts: “Look down, look down don’t look ’em in the eye. Look down, look down, you’re here until you die…The sun is strong It’s hot as hell below, Look down, look down, there’s twenty years to go. I’ve done no wrong! Sweet Jesus, hear my prayer! Look down look down, Sweet Jesus doesn’t care.”
This is the opening scene of Les Miserables, a book by Victor Hugo, transformed into a world renown musical and now a soon to be academy award winning movie. The content of this story pulls at our heart strings, makes us weep at the human condition and lament the loss of love, life and hope. But within the narration of this classical tale dwells a redemptive element that is personified in the character of Jean Valjean. At the beginning of this tale, Valjean is a prisoner because he broke into a bakery and stole a loaf of bread for his sister’s children who are starving. He is convicted and sent to work in this labor camp prison and now identified by the law as prisoner 24601, his life is a perpetual hell…until he is paroled. The story picks up following his release and his trouble only continues because of his identity as a convicted felon with his yellow identification card – indicating his post prison status. He is taken in by a Bishop only to give into temptation and steals some valuable silverware, but Valjean is caught and brought back to the bishop. At this point a first time reader might assume Valjean is doomed by his guilt, but the Bishop does something remarkable, he tells the police that he gave Jean Valjean the valuable silverware. Following the departure of the police, the Bishop tells Valjean to take the valuable treasure of silverware and use it for good. Jean Valjean is amazed, conflicted and broken by this gift of generosity and forgiveness. He vows to use this gift for good and within this amazing story He keeps his promise by redeeming and saving others.
This is more than just a story of hope and salvation in humanity; this is our own redemptive story of grace and reconciliation given to us by God through His Son Jesus Christ. We can identify with the character of Jean Valjean in many ways. We too have been a prisoner, our prison is sin, condemned to live a life of hell without the hope of true salvation. Living in our fallen world, we have all seen the evidence of the hopeless condition in humanity by just watching the news and witnessing horrific acts of violence, selfishness, greed, envy and so much more. Conditions in parts of our world are deplorable and it even infects the very communities in which we live…there is no place on earth that we can escape these effects of sin. Many, even those who have resources and are affluent, feel the weight and burden of such hopelessness. Henry David Thoreau once said; “rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” The truth is this: we are hopelessly shackled to this life of depravity and sin without an external intervention breaking through and saving us. The character of Jean Valjean is you and me. What would have happened if that Bishop had not intervened? He was the very hand of God in Valjean’s life. We too need an external intervention. Jesus was that intervention for you and for me. When He came to this world He took upon Himself our sin and our shame…He took our place…that execution on the cross – should have been ours. Can you feel the shackles breaking yet? We have been given hope, a release from our death sentence; we’ve been taken in, cleaned up and restored in right relationship with God himself…because of Jesus’ intervention. So what do we do with this grace, this forgiveness? I think Victor Hugo had it right in Les Miserables! His character Valjean doesn’t disappear never to be heard of again, instead he extends that hand of God, grace, hope and love in his intervention to others. That is the essence of Redemption! First it comes to us from an external intervention, and then we in turn extend that intervention to other…we become the very hands and feet of God. Mark 16:15 says; “He (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” We become God’s intervention to the world…we don’t become God, but rather we are used by God to spread this good news!
So how about it, is it time of an intervention in our world? Do you want to be a part of God’s redemptive plan in your life as well as the lives of others? It begins with accepting this gift of redemption and grace that Christ gives to us all, then from there be a part of spreading that good news of His redemptive love to those around you! This tale of Valjean is you and me…and we have been redeemed for a purpose…so do something about it!