Fantine, Cosette, Javert, Val Jean, Marius, Eponine, are a few of the most famous characters from Victor Hugos’ classic: Les Miserables. Last week I picked up this old classic, that I haven’t read since early in college, and was struck once more by how much it impacted me back then and how it shaped my views on what ministry and the faith should look like when lived out. The main influential force of the book comes from one of my favorite literary characters, who takes up less than 100 pages of this 1200-page tome: The Bishop Myriel or as he was called by the villagers under his care: Monseigneur Bienvenu or M. Welcome. As a minister there is something to be said by such a name attached to so lofty a title, In the text he points out it is the because of the second that he would accept the first. In an era where the church was known for its lavishness and pride, Hugo painted a picture of a man who believed the things he read in Scripture. A priest who didn’t wear the cloth out of a desire to become someone, but rather as a means to serve and be the light of Christ to the worst and the greatest in the villages under his care.
In a day and age where more people are concerned with being right about their doctrine there has seemed to grow all the more potent a lack of care about one’s practice. In these short pages came the conviction that we must hold both and in doing so fear God not man. The radical hospitality of M. Bienvenu is revolutionary not just in his day but in our own. Recently, our elders have begun The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosario Butterfield. The timing of which is perfect as she describes in a modern context the reality of what is exhibited in this work of fiction. We as Christian tend to be more fearful of what the world may think of us or of how it may attack us that we build walls around ourselves, judge people accordingly, and cease to offer the loving table of Christ and the message of repentance and faith. We have become afraid to be real with a people who are lost and dying.
I think deep down it is the power that fiction has on us to paint with beauty and depth, a portrait of what could be, and in doing so strike at the heart of what has become reality. Hugo painted the picture of a shepherd who loves the flock of God (in a day and age where everyone was considered such) regardless of where they came from or who they were. This again lived in a stark contrast to a world were Bishops were about prestige, luxurious homes, and the finest of foods. When robbed he claimed those things stolen as gifts, when offered financial gifts he gave them freely to the poor, when offered a great home he gifted it to a hospital and took their small lodgings for his own. He was described as a man who loved God and loved His creation. Hugo painted a picture of what could be, and in painting this picture he seemed to ask us to become it, to be people who take our faith seriously. Who take what we believe and put it into action? Now I am no literary critic and while this is one of my favorite books, I am not an expert, but the impact that this one man of God has on a story where he is barely featured is immense. Everything that happens in the life of the protagonist Val Jean flows from the Christ like love of this one man, a man he knew for all of 12 hours and in that time experienced grace, forgiveness, hospitality, patience, and mercy. How many of us leave such legacies.
The picture of this man should encourage us all the more in looking at the marks of an Elder and overseer of the church.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
-1 Tim. 3:1-7
The qualification laid down through the inspiration of the Spirit are easy to read and to a degree we may even check off the boxes pretty quickly, but when they are seen in the lives of others we are challenged all the more to pursue God and apply His words, picked in our hearts to become Christ to the world, and moved to love Him more and as such love our neighbors.
Now of course a fictional character is not a real person, but that doesn’t mean this reality doesn’t exist, again a lot of the characteristics of this Bishop are seen in Rosario and her Husband Kent’s Life. They do ministry life the way M. Bienvenu did his, a reflection on the ministry of Christ in the Gospels. It is in hospitality, a qualification we often pass by, that we see people who are cast off by society brought into experience the kingdom of God. In this characteristic of a bishop we see the personal and familial side of Christ, who preached the truth without fear and broke bread with all sorts of people.
May we learn what it means to be hospitable people, May I learn what this means…….