Monday, March 21, 2011

Luke 19 and the bishop from "Les Miserables"

The story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem reminds me of my favorite story about the Bishop, my favorite character in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables". The bishop is a true, humble servant of Christ. When Jean Valjean rewards his hospitality by stealing his silverware, his housekeeper urges him to call the police. The bishop responds that to do so would be to steal from Christ, who is the true owner of the silverware, and who has obviously chosen to let Jean Valjean use it for a while.

The bishop gave all of his diocese's money to the poor, much to the discomfort of the "important people" who expected their bishop to live like an aristocrat. (The whole book can be read online at Google Books.) The story that comes to mind when I read about Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey appears below, lifted from the Internet:

One day he arrived at Senez, which is an ancient episcopal city. He was mounted on a donkey. His purse, which was very dry at that moment, did not permit him any other equipage. The mayor of the town came to receive him at the gate of the town, and watched him dismount from his donkey, with scandalized eyes. Some of the citizens were laughing around him. "Monsieur the Mayor," said the Bishop, "and Messieurs Citizens, I perceive that I shock you. You think it very arrogant in a poor priest to ride an animal which was used by Jesus Christ. I have done so from necessity, I assure you, and not from vanity."

I think that's a hilarious story, and an example of a humble, unworthy servant of one whose sandals he is not fit to untie. But as always, when it comes to servanthood and humility, Jesus leads the way. The very Son of God could have ridden in on a white horse surrounded by angels. And some day He will. But instead he emptied himself of all but love, and (a few days later) bled for Adam's miserable race at the hands of Jerusalem's Javerts. Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me!

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