Monday, January 07, 2013

Les Misérables is almost Pilgrim's Progress

During the Christmas/New Year week, I saw two wonderful performances that confirmed to me that Post-Christian, Post-Modern people are still very much interested in a gospel story to give them hope in their misery. The first was the movie Les Misérables and the other was a Chinese ballet called Shen Yun. Two different cultures and different histories, but both are stories about the human condition of misery and lostness. Both performances have the theme of hope in a savior, grace, mercy and a new future. It is human nature to desire that a story about freedom from the misery be the truth. 

When I was a 12 year old Jr. Higher, I saw the play version of Les Miserables in San Francisco when it was sweeping the world from Broadway. I was too  young and immature to really understand the themes of the play, so to see it last week with my wife as a grown man was a thrilling, exhilarating and moving experience! I watched the movie through gospel eyes and was amazed at the gospel metaphors through out the entire story. It was almost as overt as Pilgrim's Progress...almost, but not quite. 

The Work Song "Look Down"
The story begins with men in slavery to the consequences of their own crimes. They are hopeless, forgotten and forsaken by everyone. They even express their forsaken by God when they sing  "Sweet Jesus doesn't care". Man was made upright unlike the animals. We were made to "look up" to God, but in our sin, we are "standing in our grave".  This song reminds you that you're always a slave to the law and that you wear a  badge of shame until you die.

Jean Valjean Arrested and Forgiven
A priest shows grace to Jean Valjean after he tries to steal silver from the church. The priest sings:  "by the passion and the blood, I have bought your soul for God". After having shown hospitality to this dirty ex-con, he is repaid with Valjean's theft. Prior to this scene, nobody showed mercy to him and he believed that he would always be a thief. But after he was forgiven by the priest, Valjean realizes that because he has received grace, he is a free man! "One word from him, and I'd be be back with the lash upon my back, but instead he offers there another way to go? I am reaching but I fall, the night is closing in, and I stare into the void, into the whirlpool of my sin, I'll escape now from the world, from the world of Jean Valjean, Jean Valjean is nothing now, another story must begin!"
This is what Christ says about us when we are free from sin by his blood: Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,
2 Corinthians 5:17   Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

I Dreamed a Dream

The story of another miserable soul comes to the forefront. A woman who has been forsaken by her husband and has turned to prostitution is not only one who has chosen a life of sin, but is a victim of sin and injustice. Her words in this song are the words of every person who had a "dream that my life would be so different from this hell I'm living, So different now than what it seemed! Now life has killed the dream I dreamed."
My heart absolutely broke for this woman because she represents real people who have turned to so many different kinds of sinful lifestyles to fulfill their dreams, but in the end  they have been living a nightmare.

Lovely Ladies and Master of the House

These scenes are disgusting, vulgar and base but they are a true representation of what the party life, the life of sexual promiscuity, drunkeness, greed, and self-centeredness really look like. These scenes make you feel embarrassed to watch them, but at the same time, it reminded me that all of us in the theater have taken part in one or more of those kinds of sins and it forced you to look at yourself for what your flesh really looks's putrid and revolting.

Who Am I?

When Jean Valjean's past is brought back up to him again, he is forced to confront his past and determine how he will go forward. He was shown mercy and now, will he do justice and show mercy? Another man is accused wrongly and now he must stands up for another man like the priest stood up for him! In this song, he recounts who he really is. He is forgiven! He is free, so he can be honest about who he is. Guilty, yes, but forgiven! Likewise, in Christ I am exposed as the chief of sinners! Such an awareness of my sinfulness does not drag me down, but actually serves to lift me up by magnifying my appreciation of God's forgiving grace in my life. When standing at the foot of the cross, I am left uncomfortably exposed before the eyes of others. My self righteous reputation is left in ruins in the shadow of the cross. I have nothing left to hide! 

The Confrontation between Valjean and Javert
Javert continues to pursue Jean Valjean to bring up his guilt by saying "Valjean, at last, We see each other plain `M'sieur le Mayor,' You'll wear a different chain!....a man like you can never change number 24601  Every man is born in sin Every man must choose his way You know nothing of Javert I was born inside a jail I was born with scum like you I am from the gutter too!

Valjean defends himself by speaking the truth of his new identity to him:

"You would sooner see me dead but not before I see this justice done, I am warning you Javert, I'm a stronger man by far. There is power in me yet, my race is not yet run"

This is the continual fight that we as Christians fight with the accuser of the brethren who would reclaim us if he could. He would continue to bring up your past to condemn you with it, but you must return to your justification in Christ as your armor and defense against the true accusations of the Devil.

"Stars" sung by Javert
This song reminded me of the legalist that I used to be and that so many in the church continue to be. They think they are keeping the law and they are so blinded by their self righteousness that they actually think they are pleasing the Lord as Javert says in this song:

"There, out in the darkness, A fugitive running, Fallen from God, Fallen from grace, God be my witness I never shall yield, Till we come face to face, He knows his way in the dark, But mine is the way of the Lord And those who follow the path of the righteous shall have their reward and if they fall as Lucifer fell the flame the sword!" 

While watching Russell Crowe sing this song, I couldn't help but pity his character. He was singing out of sincerity and logic. Javert was not bent on evil, he was bent on doing right and upholding justice. He was noble and brave! He really thought he was on God's side much like the Pharisees. These poor, miserable souls will one day stand before God and say Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.  - Matthew 7:22-23  

Bring Him Home
I loved the part when Jean Valjean selflessly risks his life to save the young man named Marius who has fallen in love with his adopted daughter, Cozette. He realizes that he will lose his daughter to another man's love, but because of his love for her he is willing to risk his own life and possession of Cozette for the sake of their happiness together. After having experienced grace, Vajean acts selflessly again and again as a servant.  Just like Jean Valjean, we were slaves to sin, and now we are made slaves of God to love Him and our fellow man! 

In this song, I couldn't help but cry because it reminded me of the selfless prayer of Jesus in the garden that he prayed for me! Bring him home! let him live

John 17:19-24  And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.  20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;  21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.  22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.  24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world

Javert's Suicide
Ususally, the bad guy in a movie makes you hate him so much that his defeat and death is a cause of rejoicing. However, in this movie I cried when Javert died. I pitied him. He experienced  grace and mercy and could not accept it. He saw grace as a slave master that he would never be indebted to.

"Damned if I'll live in the debt of a thief! Damned if I'll yield at the end of the chase. I am the Law and the Law is not mocked. I'll spit his pity right back in his face.There is nothing on earth that we share. It is either Valjean or Javert!"

He refused to believe that the grace that was shown to him was really true. He saw it as nothing more than a way to trap him! He would rather die than live in debt to grace! This is so sad, because millions of religious people will go to their graves holding on to their self righteousness and spit on Christ's pity for them. 

The Finale 
Finally at the end, Jean  Valjean dies in peace and looks back over his life and realizes that his life has been blessed because he has loved and lived a life of receiving and giving grace. He is ready to die and meet God. He experienced God's love and thus learned to love like Him. He leaves his daughter with the story of his life that he withheld from her all of her life. He leaves behind a story of guilt, shame, forgiveness and grace. 
"remember the truth that was once spoken that to love another person is to see the face of God!" 

Listen to the words of the finale: 

"Do you hear the people sing? Lost in the valley of the night, It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light. For the wretched of the earth, There is a flame that never dies even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise. They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord. They will walk behind the ploughshare They will put away the sword The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward! Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see? Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!"

This is the hope of every man. I was moved with compassion for the miserable ones in this world who need to know about the grace that will give them a new hope to live again in the garden of the Lord! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You hit it all right on the mark! :)