I think the interesting title (The Heroism of Passive Obedience) reveals Hugo’s point of this chapter is about the women. Yes, the bishop himself is selfless – almost beyond comprehension – so that he shows unfettered kindness to the least deserving. The bishop shows to the convict the extravagance of Jesus’ love, expecting, perhaps, nothing in return. Yes, Jean Valjean is unrealistically responsive to the bishop’s acts, even verbally explicit in his surprise – despite his few-hours future malice. But the women keep silent and obey the bishop’s lead, though they fear for their lives and for the loss of the silver: there is an interesting point.
I face similar fears, mostly having to do with the silver. But sometimes there are life and death issues. To remember that the silver belongs to God is difficult in prosperous America. It is a country of prideful self-reliance on the one hand, and prideful entitlement on the other. Even in giving away silver freely, there is the pride of relinquishing feigned ownership. So I think I can best aspire to be like the women in passive obedience.
Relatively speaking, I am a generous giver, but even writing those words gives away the true state of my heart – really its just a few coins out of my excess. To be like the bishop, I think radical action must go first. To give it all away is the only way. But I choose to manage the resources given to me and plan for future provision for my family. So I am unlike the bishop for now, but I am reconsidering. And in the mean time, could I at least act like the Madame Magloire and the Mademoiselle Baptistine? When a circumstance is given to me, I could follow the lead of giving away the silver without complaint.