Godly Foolishness

“Come in,” said the Bishop.
The door opened. A singular and violent group made its appearance on the threshold. Three men were holding a fourth man by the collar. The three men were gendarmes; the other was Jean Valjean.

“Ah! here you are!” he exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”
Jean Valjean opened his eyes wide, and stared at the venerable Bishop with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, pages 85 and 86

Jean Valjean stole the bishop’s silver while the bishop’s guest. In the morning, he is arrested and brought back to the bishop. And before Valjean is even accused of stealing the silverware, the bishop gives the thief silver candlesticks as well.

This of the bishop’s is assuredly a very unjust act.

True, the Lord says: “But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:39-41).  But isn’t this a direction for behavior in the face of adversity—not of restitution?

Jean Valjean broke the seventh commandment: thou shalt not steal. Likewise, he broke the French law. This theft he committed against the only man in the town who would take him in and give him hospitality. For the bishop to allow him to keep the silver—to give him more silver besides—is to act against the law, to reward a breaking of the commandments. What good can it do? Won’t this gift, this foolishness, rather weaken the law, encourage Jean Valjean in crime, and implicate the bishop as well?

But the bishop gives the silver, and tells Valjean: “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man” (page 86); and later, Hugo writes: “the pardon of this priest was the greatest assault and the most formidable attack which had moved him yet.” (P. 90). Jean Valjean repents: he repents and he keeps this promise which he had no recollection of making. He goes to the village of M. Sur M., and because of him “There was no pocket so obscure that it had not a little money in it; no dwelling so lowly that there was not some little joy within it.” (P. 121). Because of the foolish injustice of the bishop, too, Cosette is saved.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” … For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:19 and 1:25

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