My students are, in a word, obsessed with the 2012 movie version of Les Miserables. Knowing this, I decided to use Les Mis as the basis for our first, three-week series of the year. This series is written as discussions, designed to be interactive. When doing this kind of discussion, I also find it helpful to provide students with a copy of the relevant song lyrics.
Week 1 Les Mis Discussion:
Explain: In the scene we're about to watch, Jean Valjean, the show's main character, has just been released from prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Out on parole, he finds it impossible to find work so he sleeps anywhere he can.
Watch: Scene 2 - Start: 7:22; End: 14:12
1. Despite the hospitality of the Bishop, Valjean steals from him. When caught, the bishop gives him additional pieces of silver saying, “You forgot I gave these also, would you leave the best behind?” Describe your reaction to the Bishop's treatment of Valjean. Why do you think we're so surprised at the way the Bishop treats Valjean?
2. What's justice?
3. In the scene we just watched, had Valjean been treated justly, what would have happened to him? Why?
4. Rather than show Valjean justice, what does the Bishop show him?
Leader's Note: There can certainly be a variety of answers to this question. However, make sure these answers include mercy: A mitigation of punishment; An act of kindness, compassion, or favor.
5. How does the Bishop's treatment of Valjean mirror the way God treats us?
6. Read Romans 6:23. According to Paul, if God were to treat us justly, what would happen to us? Why? Is this what actually happens to us? Why or why not?
7. Read 1 John 1:9. According to this passage, is God just?
8. How can we call God just if what he shows us is not justice but mercy?
9. In the scene we just watched, after the police leave, the Bishop tells Valjean, “See in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man.” What do you think the Bishop means by “higher plan”?
10. Read Romans 8:28. Do you think this is what the Bishop means when he talks about a “higher plan”?
11. Do you really believe that “all things work together for good for those who love God”? Why or why not?
12. Think about your own life. When have you “seen some higher plan” in whatever circumstances you were facing?
13. The Bishop tells Valjean “By the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness.” What passion and blood is the Bishop referring to?
14. Metaphors of light and darkness are used throughout Scripture. Read Isaiah 9:2. What does it mean to “walk in darkness”?
15. How, if at all, do we walk in darkness?
16. How has God raised us out of darkness?
17. The last thing the Bishop tells Valjean is “I have bought your soul for God.” Since the Bishop bought Valjean's soul, what does he expect of Valjean?
18. Has anyone bought your soul? If so, who? With what?
19. Read 1 Timothy 2:5-6. Who bought your soul? With what?
20. Since Jesus paid the “ransom” for us, what, if anything, does he expect from us?
21. In his soliloquy, Valjean says, “My life was a war that could never be won.” Do you ever feel as though your life is a war? If so, what makes you feel this way? Who's battling who? Is there ever a victor? If so, who?
22. In his soliloquy, Valjean questions, “Why did I allow that man to touch my soul and teach me love?” Who has taught you love? How, if at all, has Jesus taught you love?
23. In his soliloquy, Valjean speaks of the freedom offered to him by the Bishop and says, “I feel my shame inside me like a knife.” What is shame? Who or what makes you feel shame?
24. In his soliloquy, Valjean says “Another story must begin!” For those familiar with Les Mis, what impact does the Bishop's mercy have on the rest of Valjean's life?
Leader's Note: The Bishop's actions profoundly change Valjean, influencing every aspect of who he becomes.
25. In general, which do you think prompts people to change more: Justice or mercy? Why?
26. Read 2 Corinthians 5:17. What does it mean that we are a “new creation”?
27. How does our faith in Jesus give us a new story?
Here is the discussion in pdf format.