Javert would be very uncomfortable with the way we offer Communion. Justice, for Javert, is nearly the sole expression of “You reap what you sow,” except the only way to make amends for wrongdoing is through penalty. Upon leaving M. Bienvenu’s home where Valjean received grace for stealing his silver, Valjean steals a coin from Gervais, a young chimney sweep traveling the road. Interestingly, stealing this coin from the boy, as opposed to the silver from the priest, is what finally convinces Valjean to change his life. It was the realization that the temptation to steal was too deeply ingrained in his soul. The silver he had was more than he needed, yet he stole from the boy seemingly out of habit. It’s like what St. Augustine said in his Confessions, written around AD 400:
“I was in love with my own ruin, in love with decay: not with the thing for which I was falling into decay but with decay itself.”
The Pharisees have something in common with Javert. They hold an unapologetic love for order in the extreme. It’s hard to blame them. They lived under the theological assumption that Israel’s failure to keep the letter of the Law was why many of the Jewish people were sent into Babylonian exile. Upon their return to the land, there was a zealousness for keeping a strict adherence to the Law so that God would bless them to remain in the land. Like Javert, there is little room for compromise. If there were any acceptable exceptions to the lawful provisions, it would be included in the law itself. This is one of the reasons Jesus and the Pharisees were in such conflict. Jesus’ ministry, on the whole, was a re-narration of the Law in order to bring about its completion. The problem was he didn’t establish a new written law, and he based these new interpretations on his own authority. One person making seemingly situational decisions and judgments is a recipe for disaster, and so they plotted to destroy him.
Have you had experience with the tension between following the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law?
Matt Rawle, The Grace of Les Miserables (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019).