Monday, December 31, 2012

Misery and Compassion

I saw Les Miserables today. I knew very little of the novel or the musical, so I approached the music, story, and cinematography with fresh eyes and an open mind.
Photo from L.A. Times
It's one of those stories that changes you. I suppose you could name several different themes for it - the devastation of poverty, revolution and the power of freedom, the folly of justice without mercy. But for me, it resonated with a single message: compassion. That single act of forgiveness and love - a priest, robbed after showing kindness to a forlorn stranger, not only forgiving the deed but covering it up and giving more than was taken from him - changed not only a life, but a whole city.

In gratitude and confusion, the story's protagonist, Jean Valjean, (portrayed movingly by Hugh Jackman) pours out the hatred and resentment he's harbored for 20 years in prison, and allows himself to be filled instead by mercy. He grows into a compassionate businessman, leader, father and hero, and changes lives wherever he goes.

In contrast, the policeman who upholds the law at all costs and vows to hunt him down (a wooden performance by Russell Crowe - I expected more of him) possesses such an untouchable, unbendable sense of rightness that he seems devoid of a soul. The contrast in these two men made me think about all the times I upheld the letter of the law, thinking I knew so much while understanding so little. Little things of course - like being the camp counselor who actually confiscated playing cards because "the rule book said," or not extending the benefit of the doubt to someone accused. But still, those little choices never felt like the right thing afterward. This movie really stirred my heart to tenderness, and reminded me of the great compassion and mercy already extended to me by the most just Judge of all.

I have been shown love, and trust, and generosity by the Father of my blessed Savior. I have been given so much and have deserved so little - how could I be exacting and unforgiving toward His children? The acts of selflessness in Les Miserables, this fictional story, moved me to a conviction stronger than ever - If I am to err, (and I will) better that it be on the side of love and generosity - never again on the side of mistrust and so-called "justice."  I am not wise, and I'm no man's judge - yet how easily we all assume that role! What makes us think we can see the whole situation clearly, or that we even have the right? Why not place a little more faith in God as our protector and the rightful enforcer of justice in our lives?

I think I've hit upon my new year's resolution. May I benefit others with all I've been blessed with and always show them the light of love, even when the world says they don't deserve my sympathy. May I give freely, without expectations - recognizing that I have already been given so much more. I place myself into God's hands and trust that the pain that will at times come from choosing compassion will be no more than He allows in His goodness.

It's odd, for the past few weeks I've been listlessly "going to church" and reading the Bible to try to find God, and yet seeing this movie has brought me to a richer contemplation of the character of my Savior, a profounder love for Him, and a stronger commitment to walk the faith than the whole lot of it. He's full of surprises, isn't He?

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