What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14-17).
It is no secret to my friends that "Les Miserables" has topped my list of favorite movies. Not only is the music hauntingly beautiful and stirring, but the storyline of the movie is itself inspiring and deeply moving. In "Les Miserables" Jean Valjean, a despised criminal desperate for freedom, is transformed by the mercy of a priest and the redeeming power of God's love. Given a chance to make something of his life, he becomes an advocate for the poor and downtrodden, investing his wealth and compassion to bring healing, love, and hope to the hopeless and in particular, to Fantine and her beloved daughter, Cosette. Because of the love demonstrated to him, Valjean in turn demonstrates that love by caring for others less fortunate than himself.
The translation of Les Miserables is literally "the miserable ones." We live in a world filled with miserable, dejected, and desperate people who struggle to make it day to day. Just this week I have had the opportunity to minister to a woman who has lived on the streets for the past five years. She called in the middle of the night to ask for a ride to the emergency room of a local hospital. Not sure of what I would find when I picked her up, I prayed during the entire drive across town. Carrying a small canvas bag containing her only worldly possessions, she possessed a survivor instinct that I found impressive and humbling. Despite her obvious physical needs she was mentally astute and spoke only words of encouragement to the nurse who attended her, and me. I know, however, that she isn't always that upbeat. She has suffered through many bitterly cold winter nights and scorching summer days, occasionally finding refuge in a cheap hotel room or broken down car when she could afford one. She doesn't meet the criteria for most of the shelters in our area and is unwilling to leave the comfort of her familiar surroundings to seek shelter elsewhere, therefore she continues to make the street her home.
This woman is not the only homeless person I have encountered. There is a growing number of young people who have been turned out of their homes by parents who have grown weary of dealing with rebellion, lack of motivation, and disrespect. Some of these parents have chosen this course of action as a last resort in order to maintain peace in the home, protect other children living there, and because all other efforts to get through to their adult children have somehow failed. Sadly, though, some parents lack the grace, wisdom, and support they themselves need to offer their kids the love, patience, and coping skills necessary to live in a society which continues to change and challenge us all. As a result, these kids often turn to peers who are as messed up as they are and very few have their needs met or find the hope they so desperately need.
Many of us are so caught up in the problems and activities of our own lives that we fail to see the "miserable ones" among us. What if we actually gave of our time and possessions to help those who are truly in need? Jean Valjean had a significant impact on the lives of Fantine, Cossette, and Marius. How many lives might God transform because we choose to extend His hand of mercy and demonstrate His love and grace to "the miserable ones" rather than leave them in the gutter of despair?
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