That was the thrust of Satan's bet with Yahweh that we find in the book of Job. Job is good and rich. God is proud of his servant's devotion. Satan says, "Don't be so foolish. All of that will change if you simply remove your servant's wealth, children, and health. Just watch and see." The familiar story unfolds from there.
So when Jesus calls Peter "Satan," he's not really telling his friend to go to hell. No, he means what he says, "You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Human beings (like Satan) connect faith with prosperity. But in Jesus' eyes, prosperity is not life's overriding purpose. Neither is personal safety protected by violence.
But what does God really "think" about the purpose of life? Jesus words about saving and losing life provide a clue.
Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?"
These are stunning words. They turn the world's values upside down. They imply that God "thinks" that life's purpose involves opposing empire. (Remember Rome reserved "taking up the cross" as a punishment for insurgents.) Life's purpose entails self-denial, not self-gratification. It means holding life loosely, being prepared to surrender it "for justice's sake" at any moment. It means preferring God's Reign to possessing the entire world. It means returning kindness for evil, even if that entails losing one's own life as a result. Or as the psalmist puts it in today's responsorial, "God's kindness is a greater good than life itself." (That is, it's better to lose one's life than to be unkind.)
All such ideals run counter to the U.S. culture which Muslims find so threatening. They have become the ideals of the world which in today's second reading Paul tells us to resist. "Do not conform yourselves to this age," he writes, "But be transformed." Only personal transformation, he adds, will enable your mind to discern what is good, pleasing and perfect in God's eyes -- even if it leads to the sacrifice of your own life.
As a Muslim who embraced the New Testament tradition, the Ayatollah Khomeini understood Jesus' words. He saw that the order championed by the United States contradicts the basic values of Islam and the Judeo-Christian tradition about community, compassion and care for society's most vulnerable.
So he viewed "America" as what Muslims call "Shaytan." For Muslims Shaytan is not the devil either. Instead, he is "the Great Deceiver," whose promises mislead, corrupt and immiserate those who believe them.
In fact, while promising peace, prosperity, and happiness, the West's elevation of commercial values to a position of supremacy in the moral hierarchy could not be (in Muslim eyes) more deceptive and disastrous. Without care for society's poor and vulnerable, commercial values lead to individualism, competition, war and unhappiness.
None of those represent God's purposes for human beings.
Would that we Christians could embrace those teachings and stop our mindless pursuit of wealth, our belief that violence saves, and our cowardly conviction that anything is justified by "fear for our lives."
As Paul says, the authentic teachings of Jesus challenge such conformity to "this age." Who among us is willing to embrace such challenging truths?
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