One of my favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It centers on the life of a man called Jean Valjean, who was imprisoned during the French revolution for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. He served 19 years of hard labor and became bitter and angry toward both society and God.
After his release from prison, Valjean wandered for days begging for food and shelter but received nothing but denials from graceless people who did not want to help a convict.
Finally, the weary and hungry Valjean arrived at the door of a poor bishop named, Monseigneur Myriel. The bishop invited him in and offered him a hot meal and a warm bed. At the dinner table Valjean bitterly explained his situation but then bragged that with food in his stomach and a night’s sleep in a real bed he would become a new man.
Instead that night after everyone else was asleep, he decided to rob his gracious host. Valjean was caught by the police with the loots. The police brought him back to the Bishop. However, to Valjean's surprise, the Bishop told the police that the loots were his gifts. To prove his point, the Bishop added two precious candlesticks to his 'gifts'. The thief was so shocked by the Bishop's kindness and mercy that he decided to turn over a new leaf.
Well, for the rest of his life Jean Valjean was driven by the truth of that challenge. Because of his experience of the Bishop’s grace, Jean Valjean made his entire life an act of love. He was driven to become an honest laborer and eventually saved enough to buy a factory that provided gainful employment for an entire town...where he was so famous for his generosity and grace that they forced him to become mayor.
Grace drove him to provide shelter for a dying prostitute and then to devote himself to raising her little girl, Cosette, as his own daughter. Later he faced peril to save the man who loved Cosette, even though he knew it meant returning to prison.
In short, Valjean’s experience of grace MOTIVATED him to live it.
One of the reasons I believe Hugo’s story is so much-loved — is the fact that ours is a GRACE-needing world. People hunger for God’s grace. So they are drawn to this story about grace as a moth is drawn out of the darkness toward the light.
Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Mark Adam, Redland Baptist Church