Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Gospel According to Les Miserable

Once upon a time I fancied a career as a lyricist, and I wanted to write the lyrics for Broadway and West End shows and be like Tim Rice, Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, and David Zippel. I abandoned that for a military career and I abandoned that for a biblical studies career. But I've always maintained my love for musical theatre. My favourite is Les Miz.

In many ways the figures of Valjean and Javert represent two different responses to grace. Both of them experience unprecedent, unwarranted, and undeserved mercy. Valjean assaults the local bishop and steals the bishop's expensive cutlery, and yet bishop lies to the police in order to protect Valjean. He saves Valjean from prison. Valjean is amazed, astounded, and broken in the face of this grace. Valjean receives it, embraces it, and is tranformed by it.

Inspector Javert, on the other hand, is a man with a mission. He hunts Valjean relentlessly, he never asks for mercy nor ever gives any. When Valjean saves Javert's life (when Valjean has every reason to kill him), Javert is stunned and insulted by this act of grace. He mocks it, derides it, and ultimately destroys himself because of it.

Javert and Valjean represent two different responses to the gospel of God's grace. Either we can be like Valjean and weep for our sins, crumble in amazement at the depths and power of God's love, and allow grace to consume and transform us with the result that we show grace to others. Our else we can be like Javert, and say in effect, 'I would rather die than live in your debt'. That is the story and scandal of grace.

Here is the lyrics to Valjean's soliloquy:

What have I done? Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Became a thief in the night, become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far, and is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate
The cries in the dark that nobody hears
Here where I stand at the turning of the years

If there’s another way to go, I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow this man
To touch my soul and teach me love
He treated me like any other,
He gave me his trust, He called me Brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be
For I had come to hate the world, this world that always hated me

Take an eye for an eye, turn your heart into stone
This is all I have lived for, this is all I have known
One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead, he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul
How does he know
What Spirit comes to move my life
Is there another way to go

I am reaching but I fall and the night is closing in
And I stare into the void, to the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing nowAnother story must begin!

PS, listen to the version with Philip Quast playing Javert: he is fantastic! (an Aussie too).

1 comment:

hrobins said...

Mike, Les Miserables is by far my favorite musical! I think I enjoyed it so much because the two men were opposing forces, but they were both "good guys." You drew great parallels...I can see it now, "The Gospel According to Broadway"!