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Thoughts from the Shower

Toward a proper self-identification

Posted Tuesday, January 31, 2006 by Sam Yeiter

I work out every morning at a gym next to my work.  My tennis nemesis from the summer, good friend, Rish, has become my racquet ball nemesis and lifting partner.  Often our stories at work begin, “Rish and I were talking in the shower this morning….”  Ah, the showers.  Well, the other morning (in the showers) I looked over and noticed a tattoo-laden gentleman.  None caught my attention except one on his shoulder blade.  It was a five-digit number.  I have no idea of its meaning to him, but it reminded me of a prisoners number, branded onto him.  I began to think of one of my favorite protagonists, Jean Valjean, as represented in the musical, Les Misérables.

Valjean becomes a criminal when he is caught stealing bread to feed his starving family.  After 19 years in prison, he is paroled.  At that time, Valjean has this exchange with Javert, his jailor:



Now bring me prisoner 24601

Your time is up

And your parole’s begun

You know what that means



Yes, it means I’m free



No! It means you get

Your yellow ticket-of-leave

You are a thief



I stole a loaf of bread



You robbed a house.



I broke a window pane

My sister’s child was close to death

And we were starving



You will starve again

Unless you learn the meaning of the law



I know the meaning of those 19 years

A slave of the law



Five years for what you did

The rest because you tried to run

Yes, 24601



My name is Jean Valjean



And I’m Javert

Do not forget my name

Do not forget me



Valjean then meets a priest who shows compassion on him, providing some funds and singing, “And remember this, my brother.  See in this some higher plan.  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 have bought your soul for God!”


Long story short, Valjean jumps parole, changes identity, and quickly becomes a prominent citizen and then Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer.  His life has changed because of God’s intervention in the person of the priest.  But Javert relentlessly pursues him, and when at last they meet Javert says, “Men like you can never change.  No, 24601, my duty’s to the law.  You have no rights.  Come with me, 24601.”


For those of us who know salvation, who have been redeemed not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ, we have become the sons and daughters of God.  We have been adopted and given a new name.  I am no longer the Sam the Enemy used to know.  I am now Saint Sam.  I am hidden-in-Christ Sam.  I am no longer 24601.  But, there are times when Satan comes, and he mocks me and dredges up my old identity, and calls me by my old name.  And every time he does I am tempted to yield, to acknowledge his claim over me, to confess that I am, in fact, 24601.


I thought of this as I looked across at the fellow with the number on his back…and I thought of how I tend to carry my old number with me.  Is there corruption in my old life?  Yes.  Mrs. Chevely, the antagonist in An Ideal Husband, says to her apparently helpless prey, “No man is rich enough to buy back his past…not even you.”  She is right.  But Paul anticipated her and said, “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).  And in another place, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).  These words from the persecutor of the Church.  If Paul can do this, certainly no credible charge can be brought against us.  Let us lay down our numbers and refuse to take them up again.  When our enemy moves against us, bullying us with our old name, let us cling to our new, true identity.

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