Perhaps you make (and keep) resolutions each New Year, but I learned sometime ago that anytime I tell myself I should change something, it just means I don’t want to change it. But I’m always tempted to make resolutions anyway! It’s such a nice thought as one year winds down and we start to look ahead to next year, to think that we should consciously plan to do things better.
I’ve noticed that I will do things pretty much the same way if I don’t intentionally work at doing them better. On New Year’s Day my wife and I went to see “Les Miserables” and I was reminded by that powerful story that there is a real need for conscious, deliberate efforts to be better people. But even though almost everyone I hear talking about the way things work in today’s world agrees that people do terrible things (not just violent things as in Connecticut’s tragedy, or criminal things like Bernie Madoff, or cruel things like the financiers who inflated and then destroyed the real estate market so they could skim billions of dollars off the top), I don’t hear many people who are optimistic about the possibility of such changes happening. And that’s what struck me about the movie; the hero changes from one who steals in desperation to one who hates with deep passion the law and authority that treated him so harshly for so many years, and finally to one who sets out to become a better man.
What brought him to this decision? What power enabled him to pursue it? It was grace. Grace extended to him by one whom he robbed. The gentle priest who took him out of the cold and into the warmth, who fed him and sheltered him showed him grace. But it wasn’t enough just to show that grace. The hero steals the silver and sneaks away in the darkness but is caught by the local police who drag him back to the priest. And the priest shows more grace. He hands the hero even more silver, insists it is all a gift and says, God wants you to accept his grace and become a better man. So the hero sets out to live up to this grace that he received. But he isn’t perfect, he makes mistakes, he lives in fear of exposure for he has broken his parole, and he can’t even prevent injustice from happening in the ranks of his own employees. But he doesn’t surrender, he doesn’t quit. He keeps trying to touch the people around him and make their lives better.
It seems to me that our world is in desperate need of God’s grace — but we don’t need more of the imitation grace that tells us we are all fine the way we are, just be yourself and you’ll be fine. That’s what the world is already doing and it’s a mess. We need the real grace that hands us the second chance and empowers us to dare to be better people. We need the grace that God gives, not to feel good about where we are now, but to find the strength to be better. Victor Hugo’s classic tale has never been one of my favorites and, to be honest, I generally don’t like musicals; but I am very thankful to be reminded here at the start of a new year that God does graciously invite us to become better people. If you’re still thinking about a few resolutions…
The Rev. Bruce Thweatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.