On this episode of Finding Christ in Cinema, we go back to 19th Century France and look for Christian themes in LES MISERABLES. Is the Bishop in this film a true “vicar” of Christ? What about the merciful Jean Valjean? All that and more in 3…2…1!
The Bishop as the Christ-Figure In Les Miserables
Michael proffers that the Bishop in Les Miserables is the best Christ-figure in any movie of the universe.
We first meet the Bishop as he awakens fugitive Jean Valjean from sleeping in a nondescript building on the church grounds. Valjean wants to react with hostility because that’s what he’s had to do while he was on the run; however, the Bishop gives him peace instead of grief. Not only peace, he gives him room and board and doles out the French equivalent of the “mi casa es su casa” sentiment.
The Bishop essentially echoes Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. (Verses 28-30)
The Bishop even intercedes for Valjean when he is caught red-handed stealing from the church. However, instead of pressing charges against him, the Bishop complies with Valjean’s statement that he had given Valjean everything he was stealing; he even gave him more!
Such is the love of Christ: subservient and giving unto death and still strong enough to take our burdens and exchange it for His.
In Les Miserables, our hero Jean Valjean is a convict on the run from Inspector Javert, who proves to be quite a formidable enemy. The cat-and-mouse dynamic in their relationship extends throughout the majority of the film and is amplified in several revealing moments.
One such moment reminds me of a section of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes (you know, the “attitudes” we should “be”…eh? eh?). Matthew 5:7 will serve as my key text:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Fast forward to the barricade: our revolutionaries have found out the their new “friend” is really Inspector Javert who was actually spying on them to report back to the troops. After his cover is blown, however, he is tied up by the neck and is awaiting execution.
Along comes Jean Valjean who also says he wants to help the cause just as Javert said, but fool the rebels once, shame on Javert…fool them twice, shame on them. Not wanting to be betrayed again, they attempt to chain Valjean, but the little squirt vouches for him, and not too soon either.
After Valjean saves the revolutionaries from a surprise attack, they trust him. He then asks for token of their gratitude: Javert himself. The exchange is made, and Javert now belongs to Valjean who takes him out to “finish the job.”
Here, Valjean has every right to take Javert’s life. Javert even expects him to. However, Valjean was demonstratively shown a better way by the Bishop earlier, and he channels that better way in this perfect moment.
Javert, now a free man, starts walking away. But before he leaves, he conceits that this salvation from Valjean means nothing. And Valjean, just to further extend the loving mercy to his enemy and heap fiery coals on his head, tells him to leave.
When Valjean could have justifiably avenged himself at Javert’s expense, he chose to be merciful instead of vengeful – a perfect mirror of Christ if I ever saw one.
So the next time you have to the chance to avenge yourself at your enemies expense – in the office, in the workplace, at school, at home – be merciful, as Valjean, the Bishop, and our Father in Heaven is merciful, for then you will receive mercy, too.
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Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.
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