Think twice and judge not, that you be not judged ...
For many people, Sunday morning is a time for renewal — especially in Northern Ireland where there are four times as many regular worshippers every week as in England.
However, for many others it is a time for reading the Sunday tabloids, with the latest gruesome details about the love lives of footballers, and claims of cheating in high places.
The tales of certain footballers allegedly ‘playing away’ are nothing new.
It is something that we now expect from soccer, where some of the personal misbehaviour is worse than the obscene wages which the top people are paid.
Just in case we think that |bad behaviour is the prerogative of soccer, let’s not forget the recent scandalous example of cheating by a leading English rugby club, when a player used fake blood to pretend that he was badly injured.
Cheating also seems to be creeping into other sports, and the recent allegations about a number of Pakistani players has shaken the game to its foundations.
What is particularly sad about this incident is the extent to which the bad publicity has overshadowed that much more serious situation in Pakistan, where millions have been made homeless and where the country has been devastated by floods.
Perhaps it is a sign of human nature that the foibles of some sports stars and many other people in public life are more titillating than the news about the immense suffering of mankind.
While rightly condemning bad behaviour, it is also important to remember the disturbing story from the Bible about the woman taken in adultery, and threatened by death from stoning.
The moral, of course, is “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.
Whether you are religious or not, that story is one of the most challenging and powerful in all of literature.
Sadly, however, it does not just apply to the lost world of 2,000 years ago but also to our world of today.
One of the most sickening stories is that of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who has been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for allegedly having “illicit relations” with two men after the death of her husband.
She was acquitted of murder, but was still nevertheless |condemned to death for alleged adultery.
It is not clear whether the Iranian woman was an unwilling partner in her alleged adultery, but irrespective of this, she has been treated with extreme barbarity.
In 2006, she was whipped in front of her family, and then sentenced to death by stoning.
Following an international outcry, this sentence was postponed but she still may face death by hanging, which the Iranians regard as ‘more lenient’.
The Times of London has also claimed this week that she may have been flogged again because a photograph of her, which proved to be false, was carried in good faith by the newspaper.
As I write, there is no guarantee that this poor women will survive, and the awful reality is that there are others in Iran who await the same fate.
This is further evidence of the unspeakable savagery of the Iranian regime, which is thousands of years out of date with the modern world.
Nevertheless this country is intent on pursuing a nuclear policy, and it could soon pose a considerable threat to all of us.
The events in Iran also demonstrate the obscenity of taking man-made laws to an extreme, and how this can defeat the whole idea of religious belief and practice which should be based on compassion, tolerance and love.
All of this gives the Biblical story a modern urgency, as we think of those people in Iran |and elsewhere who face a horrible death by stoning, and also of |those who are savage enough to carry it out.
It should also make us think twice about many of our own judgements of others, and make us ask ourselves if we really think that we are pure enough to cast the first stone.
Sadly there are still quite a few of those kind of people in Northern Ireland, and only a minority of them are in the churches.