The many stories Victor Hugo weaves in Les Misérables are powerful and memorable. My favorite one is about the ex-convict Jean Valjean and a small-town bishop.
After being turned down by pretty much everyone in the area when asking for a place to stay, Jean shows up at the bishop’s house. He gives the bishop a rundown of all his mistakes and the crimes he’s committed, and says, “I was going to sleep in a doorway, but someone told me to come here. Will you let me in?”
The bishop takes pity on him and invites him in for supper. He calls Jean “Sir” and asks his housekeeper to make a bed for him. Jean can hardly believe what the bishop is doing. When asked for a reason, the bishop says, “I’m a man of God.” He then explains that it is not his house, but Christ’s.
As they eat, Jean takes note of the silver forks, spoons, and ladle. Those and the two ornate candlesticks are the only things of value in the house.
The bishop walks Jean to his room and bids him goodnight. In the wee hours of the morning, Jean wakes up and starts rifling through the house. He creeps past the bishop’s room and sees him sleeping peacefully.
He goes to force open the lock of the cabinet that holds the silver, but finds that it was left unlocked. He stuffs all the silver in his bag, runs through the garden and out into the night.
The next morning, the housekeeper is distraught. She tells the bishop that all their silver is gone! Then there’s a knock on the door and some policemen come in, escorting Jean Valjean. The police explain how they found Jean with a bag of silver, but the bishop interrupts them. He smiles and says, “Ah, Jean, I’m glad to see you! I also gave you the candlesticks. Why didn’t you take them as well?” The policemen leave.
The bishop gives Jean the candlesticks and tells him to go in peace. But first, he urges Jean to become an honest man.
Jean Valjean became known for his kindness and generosity, and he saved many lives due to his bravery and honesty. The compassion of the bishop was the turning point for Jean; it gave him hope and a sense of worth.
The most powerful part of the story is the simplicity with which the bishop displays God’s love. He does so without hesitation and without expecting anything in return. This is a beautiful portrayal of 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”