Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is one of my beloved videos, all versions but especially the newest, more musical. Proverbs 28:21 shares, “To show partiality is not good—yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread.” My mind immediately leapt to Jean Valjean who stole a loaf of bread to help his starving sister’s family, was caught and thrown into jail for 19 years. He is released but must make a life as a marked felon. Early in the movie, a priest gives him a bed for the night and Jean Valjean steals the silver. Caught again, the priest covers the offense with the police and gives Jean Valjean two silver candlesticks and tells him his life has been spared by God, so live honestly. A plot unfolds of the tension between law and grace, the police representing law and our hero showing kindness to the daughter of a woman, Fantine, wronged in his factory. The book is considered one of the great classics – as is the Bible.
Reading about the book, the article pointed out that the purpose of the book is in the prologue. Hugo shares what he considers “the three problems of the age – the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night” – social asphyxia create the need for his book in all ages. Proverbs, I think, says a similar thing succinctly, partiality is not good and drives people to steal to survive. When God is not our first priority but self, we diminish the other’s humanity and create the problems facing our age, which I find to be exactly the same as Hugo’s, degradation (racism), poverty, and ignorance. In the end of Les Miserables, the policeman who represents law, kills himself, taking on the judgment Jean Valjean deserved, and giving to our hero life. Jesus goes to the cross that we might have life.
Perhaps we are not tempted to steal bread today but the temptation to cut corners, to forget someone else’s humanity, to fight for self is always there. It is only as we choose God’s way that grace blesses and gives hope. Lord help us in our decisions today.