In the film we are introduced to the Thenardiers. They run an inn where they are surrounded by vice and villainy. They draw in innocents to prey upon, stealing whatever they can and fleecing them in every way. All the while they sing a song, an anthem to Thenardier called "Master of the House."
In the song he sings:
Master of the house, doling out the charm
Ready with a handshake and an open palm
Tells a saucy tale, makes a little stir
Customers appreciate a bon-viveur [a person who enjoys the good things in life]
Glad to do a friend a favor
Doesn't cost me to be nice
But nothing gets you nothing
Everything has got a little price!
Master of the house, keeper of the zoo
Ready to relieve 'em of a sou or two
Watering the wine, making up the weight
Pickin' up their knick-knacks when they can't see straight
Everybody loves a landlord
Everybody's bosom friend
I do whatever pleases
[taking the Lord Jesus' name in vain] Won't I bleed 'em in the end!
The Thenardier worldview is that we are beasts who claw and scratch out survival by taking from others. The world is nothing but power struggling against power. Money is the means to any kind of happiness because we desire the pleasures of the world that money can afford. And no one is better at this than Thenardier. He charms and seduces until he gets what he wants. And those wretches who remain in his world are only barely human. The movie does a nice job of conveying this as he sets out a bowl of ale and one of his regulars laps it up like a dog.
You may be repelled by this image, but how often do we behave as if Thenardier is right? How often do we turn on our charm for that first date or that possible promotion. We put on a false face to get ahead. We shake with one hand and hold the dagger in the other. At my first job I used to eat lunch with my co-workers. But I was shocked to find out how quickly the conversation turned to gossip about others, even those who had just left the table. I don't say this in way of being judgmental, because I was just as guilty. I was giddy to be part of that circle. Now I don't eat lunch at all. I am too weak to not give in. I fell for the Master of the House.
The problem isn't just exterior, but interior. We agree with Thenardier when we place the pleasures of this world above what we know is right. We become cozy with our interior vices. We engage them like old friends. I could go to prayer now, but The Big Bang Theory just started and it was the one where Sheldon hugged Penny. I could volunteer my time at the local nursing home, but I just got Halo 4 and need to level up. I could give more money to charity, but those DC Universe action figure ain't gonna buy themselves.
None of the above past times or hobbies mentioned are bad or wrong, but when I value them out of proportion to my spiritual growth, then I think I missed something. I think I cut corners on my soul. But as Thernardier said, everything has got a little price. Our time on this earth is limited and I pay for each second with life. And with each choice I make I place the sands of my hourglass on the scales of judgment. There will be an accounting. On which side of the scale will my life fall? You cannot serve two masters.
How horribly practical Thenardier is and how easily takes what he needs without compunction. He teaches us that we are wasting our time in any other pursuits besides that of worldly pleasure. It was this thought that helped me realize who Thernardier really is.
He is the devil.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said "I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming." (Jn 14:30) The master of this house is Satan. The world is fallen. It is broken in all of the important places. When it is this brokenness that the devil preys on. He is like a drug dealer dangling his wears in the middle of a rehab clinic. And the world is thus changed by giving into him and making him the master. All of the strife in the world, in our families, in our interior lives come from choosing the master of this world as our guide. When we look for the upper hand instead of extending a helping hand, we follow the ethic of Thenardier. And soon we will be healed like dogs at the master's feet and lapping up his bitter drink because the pleasures of this world are empty. They delight and then depart. That is the way it should be, but we want to cling to them, to make them endure.
We chase the phantom promise of pleasure throughout. Thenardier later sings:
Beggar at the feast!
Master of the dance!
Life is easy pickings
If you grab your chance.
Everywhere you go
Doing what is decent
But they're mostly broke!
Singing to the Lord on Sundays
Praying for the gifts He'll send.
But we're the ones who take it
We're the ones who make it in the end!
Watch the buggers dance
Watch 'em till they drop
Keep your wits about you
And you stand on top!
Masters of the land
Always get our share
Clear away the barricades
And we're still there!
We know where the wind is blowing
Money is the stuff we smell.
And when we're rich as Croesus
[taking the Lord Jesus' name in vain]! Won't we see you all in hell!
So we need someone to rescue us.
The little child Cossette is a slave bound in this hell. Her fate is all but certain should she stay. But Jean Valjean comes and pays her debt and sets her free so that he may be a father to her. The debt was not of his doing. And the cost was more than he should have paid. But he did so for the sake of the one he adopts as his own child.
And that is what Christ does for us. He ransoms us from the clutches of the Master of the House. He buys us with the currency of His blood not that we may become slaves, but sons. When I make Him Master of my house, even though I am not worth that He should enter under my roof, then my soul can be healed.
By His grace I try not to say anything about anyone behind their back that I would also not say to their face. I try to fall on my knees to pray at the beginning and end of my day (and whenever the Spirit moves me). I try to remind myself that my time is a gift from God and I must use it to always give more. I try to be more generous with my money because even though the Master of the House says I should keep it, I know I can only take with me what I give away.
I fail often, because as in the movie, the Master of the House is never far behind pursuing me. But I also succeed because I am strengthened by my Father. And I know that even thought the world is fallen, God can raise it up again.
But Good triumphs.