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The novel’s dialogue at this point is moving. Shocked, Valjean states, “Monsieur Curé, you are good; you don’t despise me. You take me into your house; you light your candles for me, and I haven’t hid from you where I come from, and how miserable I am.”
The bishop, who was sitting near him, touched his hand gently and said,
You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome . . . Your name is my brother.8
This act of hospitality by the bishop reflects the love that Jesus has for all who are miserable and suffering. All people are created in the image of God, and no matter how low they have fallen within the social hierarchy of this world, they have dignity and worth and should be recognized and treated with respect. It will be this gift of hospitality that opens the door of Valjean’s heart for even greater things to come. Hospitality, the kind welcoming of the stranger or friend, is the biblical virtue that creates the environment in which hearts can be softened and turned toward the Light.
Awaking early from his comfortable bed, Valjean walks into the kitchen and sees the silver tableware in the cupboard. The temptation is too much for him, and he quietly places the silver in his sack and steals away. When the bishop’s cook discovers that the silver is missing she is distraught. Her suspicions are confirmed when several policemen arrive with the thief in hand. Valjean is quivering in fear, knowing that he’s been caught red-handed. He’s going back to prison. All hope is lost. His freedom has vanished.
Suddenly the compassionate bishop looks at Valjean and (in the novel) says, “Ah, there you are! I’m glad to see you. But! I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest, and would bring two hundred francs. Why did you not take them along with your plates?”9
In an instant, Valjean is released and is free to go. The priest has absolved him of his crime. Then Bienvenue walks over to the mantel, picks up the candlesticks, and hands them to Valjean. In this pivotal moment of the musical, the bishop tells Valjean of “some higher plan.” He sings, “You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood, God has raised you out of darkness; I have bought your soul for God.”
God’s grace has fully entered the scene as He lovingly stoops down to offer Valjean a new beginning in life through the words and actions of the bishop. Bienvenue has given his silver candlesticks to Valjean, sharing the light of Christ with a broken man, exhorting him to receive this gift and become an honest man. This free offer of grace, at first is too much for Valjean to fathom. He is dumbfounded. Probably because, as Philip Yancey writes, “The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.”10
In Valjean’s world, the world of the French Revolution, guillotine not grace comes to mind as the symbol of the age. And in our postmodern world, the lust for more—greed—seems to be the operative word as opposed to grace. And yet, both in the world of Les Misérables and our world today, people yearn and thirst for grace. God’s loving message of grace as expressed through the shed blood of His Son on the cross, so that we might be raised with Him in new life, out of darkness, is the good news. It is the gospel that men, women, and children long to hear.
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