Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

TWO THOUSAND YEARS after the stoning of Stephen, deacon and first Christian martyr, (remembered by the Church, the world over, yesterday) the Guardian reports that an Iranian prison has said that it lacks the “necessary facilities” to carry out the sentence to death by stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and that death by hanging is now being considered as an option.

What are the “necessary facilities” with which to make a response? How can humankind in 2011 still be meting out this kind of murderous brutality – and that not only in Iran – but also in places much closer to our own “safe houses”? I don’t have an easy answer. But I do have an account of Stephen’s martyrdom to reflect upon (Acts 7) and will try to do so in the coming year, and in ordinary, everyday prayer, preaching, silence and conversation:

[Stephen] kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Pray for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who has been incarcerated since 2006. Scapegoating in each and every one of its pernicious forms must cease … and there are expressions of “Christianity” that will therefore need to take a good long and hard look at themselves. Whether from the mouth of “God” or the mouth of “Life” itself  the same message rings true: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.

Did God design the crucifixion of Jesus, or the stoning of Stephen, or the sentence hanging over the life of Ms Ashtiani? Or did we?