The Good Samaritan and Inspector Javert

This last weekend, Kenny and I went to a performance of Les Miserables at Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.  This is the third, maybe fourth, time we have seen this production live.  As usual, the play did not disappoint, but I came away with a totally new view of Inspector Javert.

If you have not seen the play, Javert is a pious police officer who sees the world in black and white.  People are good, or they are bad; they follow the law, or they break the law.  In Act I, Javert pursues Jean Valjean over the span of decades, intending to put him back in prison after Valjean breaks parole.  Valjean's sentence: 19 years for stealing bread.  Never mind that Valjean's nephew was starving, and it was an act of desperation, or that in the intervening years, Valjean has become a kind and benevolent mayor. Javert believes "once a thief, always a thief" and he has no mercy. 

It seemed the actor who portrayed Javert made him a much more sympathetic character than in previous productions, or maybe I understood him better than before.  Javert was truly a devotee to God and the Law: "The Law is not mocked..."

In the second act of the play, the tables are turned, and Javert is at the mercy of Valjean, who has been given permission to "do what you will" with Javert.  At last, Javert muses, Valjean can take his revenge.  Yet, Valjean does not kill Javert.  Instead, he helps him to escape and fakes the killing, giving the inspector time to get away from those who would do him harm. 

This act of mercy by a man Javert sees as irredeemable is such a blow to the inspector's long held belief in a black and white world, that it sends him over the edge, and he jumps to his death from a bridge. 

An expert in the law asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. (Luke 10:25-37)

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans (often described as "dogs"). Yet, Jesus tells a story and deliberately makes the Samaritan traveler a neighbor to the man left for dead  As Jesus so often reminded his followers, only two commandments ensure inheritance of eternal life:  Loving God, and loving your neighbor.
In both stories, the "neighbor" was a person despised - dehumanized - by the devout seeker.  Both men were experts in the law.  Both were challenged to see with new eyes.  How often do I let my personal - even pious - beliefs about people keep me from recognizing my neighbor?  Food for thought.


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