Les Misérables and Your Candlesticks

In Les Misérables, follow the candlesticks to see Love triumph over Law.

Les Misérables is a tangled web of unrelenting law and unconditional love. What happens when justice and mercy collide? Law must be satisfied. Love must find reconciliation. There is no common ground between the two. If there has been wrong, law demands its due. Is this the dilemma of our relationship with God?

Les Misérables vividly paints the hopelessness of humanity as prisoners sing a dirge:
“I’ve done no wrong. Sweet Jesus, hear my prayer.
“Look down. Look down. Sweet Jesus doesn’t care….
“Look down. Look down. You’ll always be a slave.
“Look down. Look down. You’re standing in your grave.”

Justice cannot visualize freedom, as we learn from Inspector Javert’s exchange with Jean Valjean, Prisoner 24601.
Inspector: “Prisoner 24601, your time is up, and your parole’s begun. Do you know what that means?”
Jean Valjean: “It means I’m free.”
Inspector: “No…. This badge of shame will show until you die…. You’ll starve again unless you learn the meaning of the law.”

The shame of the ex-con’s status haunts his steps until a kind priest finds him sleeping out in the cold. In the eyes of the law, Valjean will always be Prisoner 24601. In the eyes of the priest, Valjean is “honored guest,” “friend” and “brother.”

When Valjean steals from the priest, the priest lies to the police to speak a deeper truth of love to Valjean.

In the end, Law cannot reconcile with Love. Unrelenting Law takes a life. Love, on the other hand, saves every life it can.

The masterful storytelling of Les Miserables is in the words and in the music…and if you watch closely, it is in the visual symbols. In the Bible, silver is used both to redeem slaves to freedom and to sell Jesus to his crucifiers. As you watch Les Miserables, follow the silver candlesticks from the hands of the priest till the very end of the story. The silver candlesticks carry Valjean to the end of his life.

God has silver candlesticks for you and me too.

About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in communication, culture, Hypertext: words that point up, public square, theology, values and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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