This is Part 2 of a two-part Series. Today we will look at the Saint (or what religion deems the Saint). Read about the Sinner here.
I am a musical fangirl and my absolute favorite is Les Miserables. In case you are not familiar with the story, it centers around the main character, Jean Valjean, who went to prison for 19 years for stealing bread. He is paroled from prison and is hardened by a society who treats him poorly. Through the loving act of a Bishop, Valjean comes to follow Jesus. He changes his name and rips up his papers, which show he is a former convict. It’s a beautiful act of symbolism, but also one that breaks his parole.
As a result, the Inspector who released him, Javert, spends his life hunting down Valjean so he can drag him back to prison. Javert is obsessed with the letter of the Law to the point that all else is meaningless. He finds his worth in obeying and upholding the Law. “Those who follow the path of the righteous shall have their reward," he sings. “So it must be and so it is written on the doorway to Paradise that those who falter and those who fall must pay the price.”
To Javert, he himself is the embodiment of righteousness while Valjean, who finds his hope in the Lord, is the epitome of sinfulness simply because he broke his parole and failed to live up to the letter of the Law. In the end (30 YEAR SPOILER ALERT), Javert experiences Valjean’s compassion, humility, and dependence on the Lord. After finding his worth in the Law his entire life, Javert’s world cannot hold up in the face of God’s lavish mercy, so he takes his own life. It’s an awesome picture of the Law vs. the cross, but it also a sad story of man who sought his fulfillment apart from God in his own sense of self-righteousness.
It perplexes me how many people see Javert as the villain of the story. He is an atagonist, but not really a villain. He was a good man in his society-he obeyed the Law, he went to church, he policed the streets of Paris with integrity-but he failed to see Jesus as Savior. His self-righteousness killed him as our idols always do. His suicide is a tragic scene because he sees the mercy of Jesus right before him, but is unable to accept it for himself. His death proves he actually cared more about being right than about being made holy.
Javert reminds me of the Pharisees in John 2:8-11. They also cared more about being right than about being holy. They were using this woman to try to trick Jesus, so they could get rid of him.
They thought they were pretty clever with their question. If Jesus followed the Law of Moses and said she should be stoned, they could appeal to the Romans and claim he was trying to usurp their justice system. If he didn’t condemn the woman, they could accuse him of disobeying God’s Law.
Jesus is smarter than them, of course. He upholds the Law, acknowledging the woman’s sin, while also offering her freedom and forgiveness.
The Pharisees were not prepared for that.
The only response to them he gives is, “Let he who among you who is sinless cast the first stone.” His words shook them. They started leaving one by one. They knew they were not innocent.
Have you ever justified your sin by comparing it to another person’s? Don’t we all do it? We as humans have a tendency to minimize our own sin and maximize everybody else’s in an attempt to chase away our shame. But only Jesus can take away that shame.
The Pharisees wanted to condemn the woman for her physical act, but they were guilty of the same spiritual sin as the woman. While she was seeking to find fulfillment apart from God through sex, they were seeking to find fulfillment apart from God in their own self-righteousness.
In addressing the Pharisees, Jesus made it clear that their spiritual sin of hypocrisy was much more dangerous to their souls than this woman’s physical act of adultery.
C.S. Lewis explains it this way:
“If anyone thinks that Christians regard sexual sin as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual. The pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me...they are the animal self and the diabolical self; and the diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course it is better to be neither!”
Jesus takes hypocrisy seriously because it hardens hearts and keeps us from knowing Jesus. Self-righteousness robs us of the freedom Jesus offers.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we meet the older, bitter, self-righteous son (who Jesus meant to represent the Pharisees). He refuses to fellowship with his father because he is bitter about his father’s forgiveness of the younger son. What does the father do? He comes out to the self-righteous son and invites him in. Jesus doesn’t condemn the hypocrite, but offers them freedom from their hypocrisy.
Romans 3:10 tells us that no one is righteous apart from God. Will you stop trying to bury your shame under acts of righteousness and let Jesus free you from it? He is the only One that can fully satisfy your soul and assign you worth.
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