Can you speak French? I can—quite a bit. So naturally, when I saw the title of the movie “Les Misérables,“ I was captivated and wanted to know more about the storyline.
I had watched this movie several times over the years. But there comes the point in our lives when something just rubs us differently.
As I watched the act of mercy being shown repeatedly by the hero of the movie, Jean Valjean, I was intrigued, intrigued because I put myself in his shoes and wondered if I could do it. Jean Valjean was a prisoner who had endured 20 long years in prison and was released by Javert, a wicked prison officer. Like most ex-convicts, Jean Valjean found it difficult to readjust to life outside prison due to the negative stigma. Out of desperation, he robs a convent and is caught, meaning he may be spending the rest of his life back in prison. Shockingly, the Bishop shows him mercy by saying that he gave the stolen items to Jean Valjean as a gift. This one act of mercy by the Bishop changes Jean Valjean’s life forever. Jean Valjean keeps showing mercy over and over again. What got to me the most was when Jean Valjean gets an opportunity to end Javert’s life once and for all but instead shows him mercy. This villain, Javert, has been pursuing Jean Valjean for decades wanting to put him back to prison. If it was you and I, I doubt we would do the same and let Javert live.
Most often, we are apt to punish people for their sins. “Who the cup fits, let him wear it“; Or
‘we reap what we sow“. We justify our acts of vengeance with old wise sayings and sometimes with scriptures.
I wish the story of the prodigal son could have unfolded further. We would find out if he showed everyone the same mercy his father had shown him in his lifetime. And it occurred to me, that’s what we Christians are here on earth for. To continue the story, the prodigal son could not finish. When we got born again and entered into the new life with Christ, we were that prodigal son that came home to his father. Now we have the task of showing mercy unconditionally because we have also been shown mercy by our Lord unduly. Showing mercy is challenging, mainly when someone has wronged us and doesn’t deserve our mercy.
But God expects and demands that we show mercy. We are to forgive seventy times seven. But how often do we tend the other cheek after we have been wronged?
Let’s take a look at our lives. How often have we paid wrong for wrong, especially when the person deserved it?
Romans 12.18 NIV) says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Notice the passage says as far as it depends on “us,” not the offender. We have the power and responsibility to show mercy. I propose a new us. The “us“ that Christ wants us to be. To show mercy ceaselessly, especially when the offender did not deserve it. Mercy with our children, mercy with our spouses, mercy with our colleagues, mercy with friends and families, and, more importantly, mercy with strangers.
Yet, there is a thin line between when to show mercy and when to punish. Jean Valjean never punished, but no wonder it’s a movie. In real life and even scripturally, there is the need for “rebuke and correction in righteousness,“ as 2 Timothy 3.16 (NIV) puts it. This has countless benefits– to deter the next person from committing the same offense, deter the offenders from repeating the crime, and help a person become a better individual through the correction process.
I always wonder why God would put two very opposing scriptures side by side. In Proverbs 26.4, the Bible says one thing, and in the very next verse, Proverbs 26.5, it tells the exact opposite.
- Proverbs 26.4 (NIV)- Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be just like him.
- Proverbs 26.5 (NIV)- Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
I believe these two opposing verses were placed side by side to emphasize the importance of both showing mercy and meeting out punishments when needed. As representatives of Christ on earth, we need to be both the lion and the lamb that Christ is.
I cannot list all the times we ought to show mercy and times when we shouldn’t. But I believe we all know too well exactly what these moments are; our minds bear witness with us.
It’s all about the mind. We need to reprogram our minds to walk in mercy. To tell ourselves to choose mercy over vengeance and only to punish when necessary for “correction in righteousness.“
Once I made a conscious effort to extend more mercy, I realized that I have been more gracious with my children, spouse, friends, and people I encounter through my work. It will be difficult sometimes but let us strive to let our acts of mercy be more than our acts of justice.
Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good Romans 12:21 (NIV).