By Aubrey Coleman
Staff Writer for The Daily Grace Co.
I recently attended a well-loved production of Les Miserables, a musical based on the 1862 novel by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo. This particular play beautifully portrays themes of redemption and forgiveness throughout. A scene that almost always brings me to tears centers around the main character, Jean Valjean, and a bishop. Jean Valjean had just escaped from prison and was looking for food and a place to sleep. A bishop found him, welcomed him in, shared a meal with him and generously offered him a warm bed to sleep. When the night comes, Jean Valjean steals gold and jewelry from the bishop’s home and makes a run for it. Caught by a constable, Valjean then must face the bishop after robbing him. As the constable presents the accusations to the bishop, the bishop’s response is not what we would expect. Instead of making a report against him and labeling him as a thief, the bishop says this:
But my friend, you left so early, Surely something slipped your mind. [The priest gives Valjean two silver candlesticks.] You forgot I gave these also. Would you leave the best behind?
The bishop overlooks Jean Valjean’s offense, even after all that he has given to him, and instead offers the stolen goods as a gift to Jean Valjien. This small act of forgiveness in choosing to overlook an offense actually leads Jean Valjean to live differently. He chooses to live the rest of life as a forgiven man, gracious and serving others. Even to the end of his life, he never forgets the undeserved forgiveness he received by the bishop.
Think of a time you have been offended. To offend, means to sin against, to upset or to go against someone. Maybe we’ve been offended by a comment at the dinner table or a text that we received. Maybe we’ve been offended by something our spouse said or did. Maybe something was taken from us that we had worked really hard for. We may even have been offended in the workplace or by a trusted friend who spoke negatively of us. In any case, we’ve all likely been there. We’ve all felt the pain of an offense. We’ve felt the hurt and frustration that follows it.
Often, our gut reaction is to make someone pay up for the ways they’ve offended us. That might look like wanting an apology, giving them the cold shoulder, distancing yourself, or making them earn your respect back. But at the heart of these responses is something much deeper than feeling offended. When we get down into the mud and mire of our heart, we are saying – “I will not stand for this, I deserve to be treated differently and I will make them pay for what they did.” In this response, we find a heart that is missing the big message of the gospel : we are the greatest offenders and we didn’t get what we deserved.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.Ephesians 2:3-5
God in His perfect holiness, set a standard of righteousness for us in order that we might have a right relationship with Him. Instead of walking in obedience, we are inclined towards gratifying the desires of the flesh, choosing our own way, and disobeying God. Because of this, we have offended the God of the universe and broken our relationship with Him. Instead of making us pay the penalty for offending Him that we deserve, because of His great love and rich mercy, He offered Christ to stand in our place, to forgive our offenses towards Him.
What we see at the cross of Christ is profound. The least deserving of all, Jesus Christ, who walked in perfect holiness, willingly and lovingly, chooses to stand in our place. He chose to be treated as we deserve to be treated – paying the penalty of our sin and bearing the wrath of God, so that we could be treated as He deserves to be treated – clothed in His righteousness and united with God.
This truth should humble us to our core. We are the greatest offenders and yet Christ has set us free from the payment we deserve to pay. Not only does He pay our penalty for disobeying God, but He makes a way for us to live with and enjoy God forever! He pays the price and offers more! We have the opportunity, when offended, to share the truth of the gospel message with our response.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:10-11
Overlooking an offense does not come easy. It is only by the grace of God that we see offenses through a gospel-transforming way. Overlooking an offense does not negate justice. It doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye or pretend that sin doesn’t exist. Instead of fixating on the offense, we fix our eyes on the grace offered to us in Christ. The grace that comes from overlooking an offense is gospel-grace. Just as the bishop’s response to Jean Valjean surprises us, we have the opportunity to surprise others with the gift of grace. When we offer others forgiveness after they’ve offended us, we experience the gift of grace, too. We are freed from holding grudges or awaiting an apology. Offering undeserved grace, points us back to Jesus. It reminds of the grace we have been shown and entrusted with to steward well. It reminds us that the ways we are offended by others are so minor in comparison to the ways we’ve offended God. Just as we have been given the gift of grace in Christ Jesus, how much more should we desire to offer that grace to others?
Instead of asking others to pay up for the ways they’ve offended us, may we choose to offer grace. May we overlook the comment at the dinner table and offer kindness instead. May we overlook the snarky response after our husband has a long work day and offer to serve him instead. May we aim to walk as those who have been rescued from our debts, and freely forgive as we have been forgiven. In our efforts, may our offenders be surprised by the gospel of grace, turning to Christ to rescue them, too.