Music and the Spoken Word: Life lessons from ‘Les Miserables’

Preston Yates stars as Javert, left, and Kyle Olsen as Jean Valjean in Hale Centre Theatre’s “Les Misérables.” Credit: Hale Centre Theatre, Hale Centre Theatre
Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables.” Credit: Universal, Universal

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given Oct. 7, 2018.

Too many people feel alone, figuratively wandering in the night. They search for purpose, meaning and connection. They long to love and be loved, to help and be helped. Often their wandering is more desperate because they feel they don’t deserve love or help. Perhaps they’ve made poor choices or haven’t lived up to expectations — their own or others’.

In Victor Hugo’s beloved classic “Les Misérables,” Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. He is finally released after 19 years, but because of his criminal record, no one is willing to trust Valjean with employment or housing — or even a friendly word. Disheartened, he finally goes to a cathedral where a bishop offers him a meal and a place to sleep.

That night, Valjean sneaks away with the church’s silverware but is caught by the police. The officers drag him back to the cathedral, where, to everyone’s surprise — especially Valjean’s — the bishop reports that he gave Valjean the silverware and wanted him to take the silver candlesticks too. The police leave, and the bishop challenges Valjean to use this gift to become an honest man. The bishop’s stunning act of grace — a gift some might say wasn’t deserved — forever changes the course of Jean Valjean’s life.

Don’t we all find ourselves in need of help that we don’t necessarily deserve? Aren’t we all beneficiaries of unearned favors? Certainly, everyone falls short and needs forgiveness. In those moments when we fear that our mistakes have put peace and joy forever out of reach, we can turn heavenward and find what 18th-century hymnist Charles Wesley called “love divine, all loves excelling.” God’s love is “pure, unbounded love,” and he grants it not because we are strong but because we need strength, not because we are good but because he is good.

Such love seems to enter most readily into the “trembling heart.” And once it enters our trembling heart, our undeserving life, we are forever changed. We can no longer see anyone as undeserving of the gifts of grace and love we might be able to offer. In this way, as Charles Wesley affirms in “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” God sets “our hearts at liberty.”

Tuning in …

The “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160 AM/102.7 FM,, KSL X-stream, BYU-TV, BYU Radio, BYU-TV International, CBS Radio Network, Dish Network, DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Channel 143) and on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s website and YouTube channel. The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at

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