I am watching the 25th Anniversary Concert of Les Miserables on DVD tonight. I love this show. I’ve seen it on Broadway at least four times, love the music, and love the story.
At its core, Les Miserables is about the transformative power of grace.
Jean Valjean, a recently paroled convict, is offered shelter, food and hospitality from a kind Bishop and his wife. In the middle of the night, Valjean steals a bunch of valuable items from the Bishop and runs. He is picked up by local officials, caught with the stolen goods, and returned to the Bishop. Not only does the Bishop not press charges, he actually gives Valjean additional valuable items.
This is beyond mercy and beyond forgiveness.
It has been said that forgiveness is “not giving someone what they deserve” (that is, punishment… anger… etc) and grace is “giving someone what they don’t deserve” — that is, giving you the candle sticks after you already stole the silver plate. I think mercy is simply giving people what they need in the moment.
The American church, in my experience, is pretty good at mercy, okay at forgiveness — and lousy at grace.
To be honest, I think most of us don’t really believe in grace — except when we are the receivers of it from God. We certainly don’t like to extend it — and we are even often told that it is unwise to extend it.
But GRACE is the model Jesus gives us.
And GRACE is TRANSFORMATIVE.
Valjean is completely transformed by this simple act of grace and spends the rest of his life trying to live a life worthy of such grace. I am convinced that this is the essence of following Jesus. Knowing we have received grace — not just forgiveness or mercy — we offer our lives in worship. And having received unmerited grace, we are COMPELLED to pass on unmerited grace to others.
Why do you think we have such a hard time with grace? Where have you seen it really lived out?