JVJ is called to two righteous paths: (1) self-surrender and humiliation, and (2) complete service in rescuing the helpless. These two paths seem to conflict since he can only have one future – either to serve the rest of his life in prison with self-surrender or to work to defend and provide for Cosette as a father. In this chapter, the conflict climaxes at Fantine’s death bed. Are there really two good roads? Is it all about perspective? And how can one discern the voice that will instruct to the best path? It seems JVJ was tempted to violate a rule of peace in order to pursue the second path, comforting Fantine and committing to guard Cossette. So he appears bound by his reluctance to act from violence to choose the first option and return to prison rather than escape and rescue Cossette, even though he threatens violence out of his protective instinct.
So the broader lesson, should there be two or more viable paths for good, is perhaps to not take liberties with “minor” moral rules in order to switch the track. For example, to engage in an act of greed in order to position myself where I might give generously. The pattern rings familiar, to run quickly across the forbidden field, briefly tresspassing, to retrieve my baseball: To justify my speeding or carelessness because I am in such a hurry to do good works today: To sacrifice the feelings of another so that I can “clear things up” by expressing the “truth” of how things actually are. So many applications which all boil down to the end justifying the means. I fix my eyes on one right path, which is the path that I desire, and justify a “brief” misstep in order to transport myself into the way.
JVJ chose to surrender in this chapter. So how will he end up on that different track? Will he have to do something that would be inconsistent with his new life?