Rediscovering Redemption

Chronicling the work of Redemption in the lives of Followers and Leaders. Articles, research and meditations from the writings of Dr. Joseph J. Bucci. Get blog updates by following Joe on Twitter @Re_Redemption

Joseph J. Bucci

Redemptive Leadership: The Challenge

The musical Les Misérables has become more well known since the release of a motion picture based on the book by Victor Hugo and the play of the same name in 2012. The original story, written in 1862, focuses on the life of Jean Valjean, a convict unjustly sentenced to nineteen years of hard labor for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family (Woodruff, 2012). In the musical version, Valjean seeks to leave his past life and return to a life of normalcy. Meanwhile, the antagonist Inspector of the law Javert reminds Valjean that he will always be a felon for life (Woodruff, 2012). As he tries to find shelter for the night, Valjean’s yellow passport informs everyone of his past life as a criminal (Morales, 2011). Valjean’s heart is hardened and cold as he fights the words of the Inspector, but sees the impact of his past mistakes.

Finally Valjean stumbles upon a kind bishop who offers Valjean supper and a bed for the night. This hospitality is mystifying to the former criminal; but it is what happens next that changes his life. Valjean lets his bitter heart and the temptation to repay evil for good get the best of him, and early the next morning he takes the silver tableware from the Bishop’s home and sneaks away (Woodruff, 2012). Valjean is later apprehended and returns to the Bishop’s residence with the silver as evidence. All the Bishop needs to do is confirm that the items were stolen. It seems that Valjean will return to prison, and all hope is lost (Woodruff, 2012). But the Bishop does a remarkable thing: the compassionate Bishop offers Valjean the silver candlesticks as well. The Bishop conveys to the police that all of the silver was offered as a gift. Here the Bishop’s actions offer redemption to Valjean (Woodruff, 2012). In the musical, it is here where the Bishop sings the following: “You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood, God has raised you out of darkness; I bought your soul for God” (Woodruff, 2012). Valjean must determine if with this hard and bitter heart to continue in sin and a pattern of failure, or to surrender to God’s grace and accept His forgiveness. From this point forward Valjean is a redeemed person. Not only is he transformed; but he in turn seeks to transform the lives of other around him by acting redemptively on their behalf (Morales, 2011).

Kathryn Grossman wrote the following of this episode in Les Misérables: “By his theft, Jean Valjean shows that he is still chained to hatred and anger; by his generosity, (Bishop) Myriel operates a spiritual purchase that substitutes ‘goodwill, gentleness, and peace’–in other words, ‘God’–for this satanic mentality. While Christ alone can redeem with the sacrifice of His life, His Bishop [might we suggest His manager] can perform an equally effective exchange. In divesting himself of his silver, (Bishop) Myriel invests in Valjean. All he demands of the recipient is that he prove worthy of the promise that he could not have made in his prison of sin, but that he will have made following his liberation” (Grossman, 1994, p.128).

The story of redemption in Les Misérables can be an inspiration to managers to consider the opportunities before us to invest in the lives of our employees: those current employees displaying aberrant behavior, as well as failed past employees; and possibly those who would never be given a regular chance to perform, like ex-convicts and former drug addicts. Those who have experienced the musical walk away amazed and emotionally affected by its powerful message (Woodruff, 2012). We have this same opportunity, as the Bishop in Les Misérables did, to invest ourselves in the success of someone who has failed in the past, that they might find redemption in their work, and perhaps impact not only their lives but the lives of others going forward. The challenge is a great one, and not without its difficulties and problems.

Man’s work is intimately linked to the restoration of creation, and this embodies the full scope of the redemptive plan of God. Work, according to Wong and Rae (2011), is not a necessary evil, but a way that God has designed for mankind to fulfill a part of its destiny (Wong & Rae, 2011). Our work releases us and creation to pursue our prescribed spiritual destiny in full redemption. This is not simply affecting our personal redemptive story but also has the opportunity through the providence of God to affect the lives and destiny of others (Wong & Rae, 2011), as it did in the life of Jean Valjean. It is the author’s hope that managers would take the emotion and the message of Les Misérables and consider a redemptive leadership intervention in the life of a troubled employee, or former prisoner, based on the mission of Christ Himself, “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Tit. 2:13).

* Grossman, K.M. (1994). Figuring transcendence in Les Miserables: Hugo’s Romantic Sublime, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
* Hoffheimer, M.H. (2012). Jean Valjean’s nightmare: Rehabilitation and redemption in Les Misérables. Unpublished article. McGeorge School of Law. Retrieved December 30, 2015 from
* Morales, L.M. (2011). Law, Grace and Redemption in Les Misérables. Tabletalk Magazine. Sanford, FL.: Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved December 30, 2015 from
* Wong, K.L., & Rae, S.B. (2011). Business for the common good. Madison, WI.: InterVarsity Press.
* Woodruff, J.S. (2012, Winter). Les Misérables: A story of God’s hospitality, grace, and redemption. Knowing and Doing Newsletter. Springfield, VA: C.S. Lewis Institute.

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