Grace is something you can never get but can only be given.  There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of rasberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.    ~Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words 

One of my favorite movies is Les Miserables and friends who have seen the musical version have told me it made a lasting impression on them as well and for good reason—the film is steeped in grace.  I can’t say I have ever seen grace more profoundly displayed on the big-screen.  Philip Yancey tells of the following scene in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?  

Sentenced to a nineteen-year term of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread, Jean Valjean gradually hardened into a tough convict.  No one could beat him in a fistfight.  No one could break his will.  At last Valjean earned his release.  Convicts in those days had to carry identity cards, however, and no innkeeper would let a dangerous felon spend the night.  for four days he wandered the village roads, seeking shelter against the weather, until finally a kindly bishop had mercy on him.

That night Jean Valjean lay still in an uncomfortable bed until the bishop and his sister drifted off to sleep.  He rose from his bed, rummaged through the cupboard for the family silver, and crept off into the darkness.

The next morning three policemen knocked on the bishop’s door, with Valjean in tow.  They had caught the convict in flight with purloined silver, and were ready to put the scoundrel in chains for life.

The bishop responded in a way that no one, especially Jean Valjean, expected.

‘So here you are!’  he cried to Valjean.  ‘I am delighted to see you.  Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well?  They’re silver like the rest, and worth a good 200 francs.  Did you forget to take them?’

Jean Valjean’s eyes had widened.  He was now staring at the old man with an expression no words can convey.  

Valjean was no thief, the bishop assured the gendarmes.  ‘The silver was my gift to him.’

When the gendarmes withdrew, the bishop gave the candlesticks to his guest, now speechless and trembling.  ‘Do not forget, do not ever forget,’ said the bishop, ‘that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.’

The power of the bishop’s act, defying every human instinct for revenge, changed Valjean’s life forever.  A naked encounter with forgiveness—especially since he had never repented—melted the granite defenses of his soul.  He kept the candlesticks as a precious memento of grace and dedicated himself from then on to helping others in need.

Just as was the case with Valjean—you and I can’t earn that which is undeserved and that is the beauty of what we call grace.

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.   (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)