Jesus Himself Would Have Bought a Ticket and Waited on a Half Hour Line to See Les Miserables.

If you’re not the church going kind of person, or if you were but left because Christians are fake and self-absorbed, or if your main exposure to Christianity has been TV evangelists or the Tea party, you ought to see this movie.

Les Mis will help you see what the Bible means, and what the church at its best has meant, by “good news.”

Sacrifice of self for the salvation of others.

Don’t get hung up in the word “salvation.” In the Bible, “salvation” is a multi-use word, but it doesn’t mean escaping this world to get to heaven. Very often “salvation” means God’s deliverance of the downtrodden, the oppressed, those caught in the machine of politics and wars.

If you’re skeptical, search a Bible index for how “salvation” and “deliverance” are used in the Old Testament. Then read the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1 and take note of what kind of “salvation” Mary and her brother-in-law Zechariah expect from this child (especially in Luke 1:51-53 and 69-71). Then read the Gospels and take note of what Jesus does do and how the marginalized of society are the ones attracted to him, not the powerful and privileged.

That doesn’t cover all the bases in the New Testament for how “salvation” is understood, but it’s a dominant meaning that is overlooked far too often. This kind of “salvation” may not sound spiritual enough for some, but that’s their problem and they need to take it up with God.

Salvation is God coming to rescue the suffering through those who say they are children of God. And children of God are those who, as Jesus taught, have replaced self-centeredness with self-sacrifice, who have lost their lives so they could find it, who have died to the ego so that they can truly live.

This is what Jesus modeled for his followers, and this is what a life lived in God’s presence looks like. 

Les Mis is a story of those who, through personal torment and pain, die (literally and figuratively  to save others. Fantine gave up her life–first as a factory worker, and then literally–for her daughter Cossette. Valjean gave his life by taking Cossette in as his own daughter and protecting her from harm.

The only part I was a little disappointed in was Valjean’s death scene. The apparition Fantine sings to him, encouraging him to let go and move on to a place where chains will no longer bind him. But I think Eponine needed to come in and sing harmony with Fantine, as she does in the Broadway version.

Even though in the book Eponine has very little to do with Valjean, in the musical she is another key Christ-figure. Rather than scheming to keep Marius for herself, Eponine lays down her own life (figuratively then literally) so that Marius and Cossette could have theirs, letting go of her self-interest even when every bit of her wanted to do the opposite. She, along with Fantine, needed to be there to usher Valjean into his “salvation.”  (In the movie, that honor is given to the bishop, played by Colm Wilkinson, who played Valjean in the original Broadway cast.)

I harp on this because the very last line all three sing summarizes the entire story:  “And remember the truth that once was spoken: ‘To love another person is to see the face of God.’” You see the face of God in all three, though in different ways.

The “truth that once was spoken” is 1 John 4:11-12:  11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

“Seeing” God in the conventional sense of the word doesn’t happen. The closest you get to “seeing” God is by living the love of God, a life of dying to self, a life of giving of oneself even at great cost. And that way, others see God in you.

Love others so that others will see God through you. “Les Miserable” is a reminder of this truth, which is both an unnerving and deep mystery and also as simple and concrete as one can get.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    Yes! I was about to write something about Les Miz too. Regarding salvation in the Old Testament, I did a little word study on yeshuah, the root word for Jesus’ name, on my blog just before Christmas: https://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/why-name-him-jesus/

    • http://dougandrhonda.blogspot.com Swartzendruber

      Morgan – thanks for the link to your essay. It reminded me of simialar writings at The Nazarene Way: http://www.thenazareneway.com/yeshua_jesus_real_name.htm – something that I like to use with college students who generally are clueless :-)

  • Patrick Hare

    Jesus would have done some serious cutting andwould never have cast Russell Crowe as Valjean.

    • Patrick Hare

      (I mean, as Javert)

    • peteenns

      Good one :-)

  • Randy

    Actually, Jesus would do the same things He did while He was on earth. I doubt He would be interested in watching a Hollywood movie. He would preach against humanity’s sin and bring light to a dark, sin-cursed world. And this world would crucify Him again just like they did back then. But, I’m glad when He does come back, He won’t be coming back as a baby in a manger. He will be the King of kings coming in judgment on a reprobate world that has turned their back on their Creator. Better make your calling and election sure.

    • Mike

      Jesus juked!

    • Derek

      True rebel, preach it bro!

    • Barry

      “He will be the King of kings coming in judgment on a reprobate world that has turned their back on their Creator. Better make your calling and election sure.”

      What I find funny is that this was what the Israelites expected from their Messiah – a king to come and lead them to military victory.

  • eric kunkel

    I think this is a great review.

    Ebert has never been the same without Siskel, Pete. Great review of a great film, and who could write a story like that! And a musical like that. And a movie like that!

    Patrick, on the casting of Crowe: I think being really able to sing would be a prerequisite, especially since this movie might get Oscars: Oscars for the technical, singing, etc. Not sure if you saw any of the background of how they shot this, but it was all live, with microphones that they “photoshopped” out after.

    All that industrial light and magic, but really being able to sing is still a good thing in a musical! Crowe looked and acted the part of Javert in his villainy, but that was about it.

    One Theological point, Pete, I think, I hope you mean we don’t see God in everyday life. I pray thee, that you are not ruling out Theophany, especially in the Christ event(s) in the Bible.

    And maybe any day now: “Beloved, now we are to be sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we will be, but we know that when He is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as he is.”

    But overall, I agree. This was a great Christmas movie.

    EK

  • Derek

    I really like how “The Gospel Coalition” saw Law v. Grace in ‘Les Mis’

    “…The answer to those questions plays out most tellingly in the contrast between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.

    As the story begins, Valjean is being released from 19 years on the chain gang, paroled back into the world but shackled with his conviction, which keeps him from being able to start over and make a new life. In despair, he returns to a life of petty crime.

    He is caught by the police after stealing silver from a church, where a bishop had offered him shelter. But when the police bring him back to the church, everything changes. The bishop denies the charges, insists the silver was a gift, and gives Valjean the most valuable silver candlesticks in the church.

    Valjean deserves judgment and condemnation, but instead, he receives grace. Not just forgiveness for his sins, but an abundant, over-the-top gift. This act is the heart of Les Mis. Grace transforms Valjean.”

  • Derek
  • eric kunkel

    Derek,
    The book is almost 2000 pages in French. There is a great deal there in the movie. Again, I admire Pete’s review and there a much to discuss in this great work by this complicated man Hugo, the tortured, poet laureate of Restoration France.

    Javer is a sadistic, self-admittedly damaged soul. He is doing his DUTY, but his understanding of the law is colored by his psychopathic personality. I believe the movies is surely about grace, love, the poor but much less about the law. Surely not the law that David loved:

    7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Ps 19 NIV)

    I could go into lengthy didacticisms about my view that Christians, not you in particular, have very reductionistic views of the Law of Moses. We have a great deal to learn from Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and the various nuanced Reformation traditions — just for starters.

    Eric

    • Derek

      Right, I didn’t intend to portray a narrow interpretation of Les Mis. Did you read the review from TGC though?

  • Jon Hughes

    Love your passion for this tale, Pete. I worked briefly at the Cambridge Theatre in London in the late ’90s when it was playing there; so watched it a number of times!

  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    Jesus bought a ticket. I saw him at the film last night.

    Although we might be tempted to view the film anachronistically due to the time period of its setting, what struck me most about the story is how contemporary it felt. Suffering is universal and now more than ever “Les Miserables” walk among us, if we’re not one of them ourselves. And it was suffering that was on my mind from the minute I sat down in the packed theater. As I scanned the crowds I couldn’t help but intuit the terror the audience felt in Aurora when a gun suddenly reigned bullets. When Javert attempts to arrest Fantine for the “crime” of victimization, I couldn’t help but think of women in India who bring shame on their families when they are raped. When the priest shows Valjean both mercy and kindness, I couldn’t help but think of the gratitude a homeless person shows if you simply acknowledge him or her… Scene after scene brought modern correlations. While the play bill and movie poster of Les Mis bears the image of Cosette, many faces could have sufficed… Etched in my mind is the child so abused as an infant she enters a coma. Or the Holocaust survivor now old and imprisoned in a nursing home. Or the gang member first introduced to toke by his mother.

    Who of us hasn’t had a dream that violently shattered? And I don’t mean a being-on-American Idol kind of dream…. I mean a dream for food, health, belonging, safety, dignity, and innocence. Yet the fact that amidst the squalor of our very human lives, there is love and self-sacrifice does indeed make me weep. And I will continue weeping all the days of my life…

    Also powerful to me was the fact that most acts of grace in this movie came from the hand of strangers and/or people who didn’t have blood or marital ties to one another. The Victor Hugos and Charles Dickens of this world got it right.

  • Jim

    Now Les Miserable I saw not, but Min 37 GB 34 I didst see. That’s the evidence that in the performing arts I partake.

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  • larry cook

    saw les miz today. remembered seeing a link to your blog posted by someone on FB so we looked it up. appreciated your perspective. as always, food for thought. miss ya man!

  • Stretch

    Grace is an amzing thing that we have recieved from our saviour, I went with my wife to see the movie as we had heard great things. I only sat through the first hour because i was dissapointed with how much lustful filth was shown. I totally understand that many who read this probaly disagree and say what was shown was alright, but for myself as a christian man trying to keep my marriage sacred i don’t apprectaite a zoomed big image down another ladies top ect… I don’t believe Jesus would’ve waited half hour to watch the movie, it would go against what he teaches, keeping ourselves holy, Feeding the lust of the flesh…
    Philippians 4:8-10(TNIV) 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.


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