Les Misérables, Baptism, and Renewal

through baptism Jesus sets in motion God's saving plan to renew all things according to the Divine Will

Why did Jesus insist on being baptism? John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But Jesus was without sin so why was He so persistent about being baptized by John?



In the 1862 novel “Les Misérables,” by Victor Hugo, the protagonist, Jean Valjean is released from prison after serving 19 years for theft ( a five year sentence was extended several times due to failed escape attempts.) Valjean arrives in the town of Digne one night looking for shelter. He is repeatedly turned away when his papers reveal him to be an ex-convict.

Finally Valjean appears at the residence of Bishop Myriel. Myriel takes him in, gives him supper and a bed for the one night. During their meal, Valjean takes note of the bishop's fine silver and resolves to steal it. Rising in the middle of the night he collects the silver tableware and runs off into the dark.

But Valjean is quickly arrested. When asked about the silver he claims that the bishop gave it to him as a gift. The police take the thief and the stolen silver back to the bishop for answers.

Valjean trembles before the bishop as the police give their report. He knows that being convicted of theft again means that he will be sent to the galleys as a slave for the rest of his life. But then something miraculous happens.

The police inform the bishop that Valjean claims the silver to be a gift. There is a moment of silence and then the bishop responds “Yes, and I’m glad he’s returned, since I also gave him the silver candlesticks but he forgot to take them with him.”

The bishop then reminds Jean Valjean of the promise he made to use the silver to turn his life around and work for the good of others.

“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.... Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Valjean's life is never the same after that. A transformation is at work in him. The Bishop believed in him and that faith set the thief on a different path, a path of renewal.

By His participation in the baptism offered by John, Jesus gives us many gifts. He gives us the sacrament by which we become adopted Children of God and accepts His mission as God's suffering servant.

But perhaps most importantly, through baptism Jesus sets in motion God's saving plan to renew all things according to the Divine Will. To “make all things new,” means to restore all things to the way God meant for them to be, including our human nature.

God created mankind with all the grace he would need to live in constant communion with God. But through disobedience, man lost that grace and left himself vulnerable to the darkness and to evil. Baptism restores to us the grace God intended for us to have from the beginning.

Our reason for existence is to be at one with God. Being made in His image and likeness it is in our nature to be self sacrificing for the sake of others.

Throughout the millennia, art has informed and been informed by, our understanding of the role man plays in the world. During the early period of Christian art, man was portrayed as he is in heaven, surrounded by the uncreated light of God and enjoying the peace and serenity that comes with being one with God.

During the Gothic period, man was portrayed as a pilgrim, finding his way back to the state of grace he originally enjoyed.

The Baroque period emphasized man's struggle against the darkness in his ongoing spiritual war with the demonic.

But what is the concept of man that will carry us through the third millennium. What is the vision that will inform our artistic endeavors and in turn be shaped by the arts?

Man is a liturgical creature. That is, the purpose of man is to glorify God and sanctify himself. Perhaps this is the view of man that artists need to hold in their thoughts as they create; man renewed and completely attuned to the voice of God speaking to him through the created world. Such a person would reflect on the nature of his (or her) relation to God in everything he does, every action he takes and every work he enters into. In every endeavor, Liturgical Man first considers how his actions will affect his relationship with God. This is man reborn, and made new.

When we are baptized, we no longer belong to evil, but to good. God purchases our soul and brings us from the darkness into the light, because He believes in the goodness of His creation.

During Advent we were reminded to prepare for the coming of the Lord, both as the Savior of the World, and as its’ judge during the last days. But today, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we celebrate the beginning. We celebrate the baptism of Jesus. By His actions our state of grace is restored and we once again may live with God as we were always meant to from the foundation of the world.

Pax Vobiscum
The Baptism of the Lord

Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.co