Sunday, March 31, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Lent
"The way home"
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
In April 2015 a 22-year-old pizza delivery driver in Lexington, Kentucky named Salahuddin Jitmoud was stabbed to death. Three people were arrested but only one was charged in the crime.
In November 2017 Abudul-Munim Sombat Jitmoud spoke at the trial of Trey Alexander Relford who was charged with the robbery and murder of his son. Because Relford admitted to the robbery and murder, he was sentenced to 31 years in prison. Otherwise, he would have received the death penalty. Relford’s mother said that at the time of the robbery and murder, her son was suffering from drug addiction.
A colleague and friend posted a copy of a video on her Facebook page last week of what transpired that day in the court. Although Salahuddin’s father addresses the young man who killed his son as “my nephew”, it becomes evident that it is an honorific phrase not one meant to imply that they were family to each other by blood.
This is what Abdul-Mumin Sombat Jitmoud said to the young man:
“You did admit being actually involved in the act of killing him. Is that correct?” he asks rhetorically. “So” he continues, “his mother has already died and he is also gone. Only I am here to represent his mother and to represent him.
My dear nephew Trey, I don’t blame you for the crime you committed. I am not angry at you for being part of hurting my son and his brothers.
I am angry at the devil. I blame the devil who misguided you and misled you to do such a horrible crime. No, I don’t blame you. I am not angry at you at all.
My son, my nephew, I forgive you on behalf of Saluhuddin and his mother.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift of charity in Islam. I wish I can go and hug you right now to comfort you for the crime that you mistakenly done.”
There is a break in the video. Newspaper journalists in the court that day reported the judge called a recess from the emotional hearing. Then as the video continues, it captures the next scene of Relford reaching back to shake the hand of Salahuddin’s father and as Salahuddin’s father reaches forward and grasps Relford’s hand, he stands up.
A few seconds pass, and then he draws Relford into an embrace. One of Salahuddin’s brothers places his hand on the back of his father, while a man approaches Relford. It is not clear who the man is but a woman who was probably his mother is approaches the group in tears. She can be heard saying, “Thank you so much. I am so sorry.”
We live in a world where such forgiveness appears to be the exception. And yet when they are occur, they are reminders of the power of compassion and forgiveness to heal broken lives; to heal those who have lost their way.
There are those who believe that “Muslims hate Christians” while others are convinced that “Buddhists hate Hindus.” Others contend that “Christians hate Jews” and “Hindus hate Muslims.” It seems there is more than enough hate to go around and then some.
So I imagine for some of us in this sanctuary this morning it is a shock to hear a man whose son was murdered say: “Forgiveness is the greatest charity in Islam.” Forgiveness is the greatest expression of love, not hate, in Islam.
Our inclination is to presume that compassion and forgiveness are actions which fall exclusively within the realm of Christian faith. But Salahuddin’s father reminds us that while the various religions and spiritual traditions of the world may, indeed, have theological and doctrinal differences that are irreconcilable, it is also true we share a common understanding of the power of compassion and forgiveness to heal our deepest wounds.
Our reading from The Gospel According to Luke is about the power such forgiveness. The parable is often referred to as the parable of “The Prodigal Son.” We are taught that growing up in Sunday School and through countless interpretations of the passage by others that it is the parable of the prodigal son.
Some Biblical scholars believe that the parable in verses 11-32 was originally two parables – one about the younger “prodigal” son (verses 11-24) and the other about the older “angry, jealous” son (verses 25-32) (Preaching Through the Christian Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 159). They argue that verses 24 and 35 make it clear that there are two separate stories.
But if we look upon our reading as the parable about the two sons, we will miss the point of the story entirely. “The focus of this story [or parable] is the father” (Op. cit.)
That is made clear at the outset. “There was a man who had two sons.” To say that the parable is about the prodigal son moves us away from the response and action of the father. It would be tempting to be drawn to the son who returns home to confess his sin and to be reunited with his family. It would make for a feel-good moment.
It would also be tempting to be drawn to the son who is angry because in some ways we may see ourselves in him. It may not make for a feel-good moment, but the drama would make for a more interesting story.
It may be true that in both Judaism and Christianity, the penitent – that is, those who confess their sins or wrongdoing - who return home are welcomed back. But like the older brother some of us would like to believe the welcome would not be with a fatted calf but with bread and water; not with a new robe, but with a sackcloth; not with jewelry but with ashes; not with dancing but with kneeling; not with merriment but with tears.
The father is the one who had two sons whom he loved. The father is the one who went out to both of them and it is the father who was generous to both (Op. cit.).
When he saw his young son returning home, he was filled with compassion. He ran and put his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20). The father was also filled with compassion for his older son. He said to him, “You are always with me and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
Through the story, Jesus proclaims the power of compassion and forgiveness. Can we not see how Salahuddin’s father was filled with compassion when he said to young man who murdered his son: “I wish I can hug you right now to comfort you”?
God’s action is save us when we lose our way; to save our sons and daughters when they lose their way. The way home for them and for us is through compassion and forgiveness. Another friend and colleague shared a more recent story about forgiveness. The story aired on our local television news last Wednesday.
In June of last year, two men were arguing in Honolulu’s Chinatown district, when John Noland was struck several times and ended up hitting his head on the sidewalk. He was hospitalized and later died. Noland was a longtime sports reporter and covered sports in Hawai‘i in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
In the news clip, his daughter Alana addresses the court in tears during the trial and says that when the incident took place she had just become engaged. She directs her comments to Mark Coleman, the man who was arrested and charged with the assault that led to her father’s death.
“Mr. Coleman,” she said, “you took the happiest event of my life, quickly turning it into a nightmare. You have now robbed me of a chance to walk down the aisle with my father on my wedding day.”
“Many things were said in the media about my father over the course of this. A lot of which were untrue. My dad has never been a violent man, and while he struggled with addiction he was never a thief.”
“We live in a world with hatred and negativity,” she continues, “and I refuse to share a part in that that, so I came here today to tell you just like I told my father before you took his last breath, that I forgive you. From the bottom of my heart I forgive you.”
Coleman responds: “I would just like to say to the family of the victim I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t so supposed to happen. I’m just so sorry. My prayers go out to the family,”
Coleman, who had a history of other arrests, was sentenced to five years in prison for causing Noland’s death. Whether it is a father forgiving a man for the murder of his son or a daughter forgiving a man for the murder of her father, we see in the parable of the father with two sons the opportunity we have to find our way home through the power of compassion and forgiveness.
It is a power made possible because of God’s amazing graces