In 1862 Victor Hugo published a novel called Les Misérables. It was hated by the critics but instantly became an international best seller. In 1985 Cameron Macintosh produced it as a stage musical at London’s Barbican Theatre. The critics called it a ‘load of sentimental old tosh,’ but it became a huge overnight success and went on to be popular all around the world.
What is it about this story that has so captivated so many? Why do so many people love it, but the critics hate it?
Victor Hugo has used his imagination to tell a story which illustrates the meaning of the Gospel. His main character Jean Valjean is an unfortunate one who has never known anything but suffering and injustice. Then he has a life changing encounter with a man who lives close to Jesus, whom the people call Bishop Welcome.
"Oh, the red coat, the ball on the ankle, a plank to sleep on, heat, cold, toil, the convicts, the thrashings, the double chain for nothing, the cell for one word; even sick and in bed, still the chain! Dogs, dogs are happier! Nineteen years! I am forty-six. Now there is the yellow passport. That is what it is like."
"Yes," resumed the Bishop, "you have come from a very sad place. Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tear-bathed face of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred just men. If you emerge from that sad place with thoughts of hatred and of wrath against mankind, you are deserving of pity; if you emerge with thoughts of good-will and of peace, you are more worthy than any one of us."
Jesus told stories that reached into the very heart of people. But his audience had different reactions, according to the condition of their hearts. There were the religious experts who were devoid of any drop of compassion towards those who suffer. They rejected His teaching and grumbled about Him. Then there were the sufferers who began to see a ray of light in the darkness for their situation. They heard Jesus gladly and great crowds flocked to Him. ‘Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable’ (Luke 15:1-3).
Bishop Welcome receives Jean Valjean with unconditional love. ‘The Bishop, who was sitting close to him, gently touched his hand. "You could not help telling me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Jesus Christ. This door does not demand of him who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has a grief. You suffer, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And do not thank me; do not say that I receive you in my house. No one is at home here, except the man who needs a refuge. I say to you, who are passing by, that you are much more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is yours. What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me you had one which I knew”.
The man opened his eyes in astonishment. "Really? You knew what I was called?”
"Yes,” replied the Bishop, "you are called my brother”.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father please help us to welcome sinners, show them unconditional love and introduce them to new life in Jesus.
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