Poverty and the Shema, Jesus’ Great commandment


When I was working on my Associates degree my only means of transportation was a 12-speed bicycle. This was also my means of transportation when I worked on my Bachelor’s degree. School was seven miles from home. This meant, fall, winter, spring, and summer, I was on that bicycle every school day, going to school. There was three inches of snow on the ground and too cold for the salt to melt the snow? If I wanted to graduate, I went to school. It was spring or summer and a bad thunderstorm was outside; if I wanted to graduate, I went to school. The worst that could happen is that one second I would be riding to school, and the next, I would not be, in both senses of the term.

Of course, there was starting school. Two weeks into the first month living off the GI Bill, as there were no jobs at the time, ’81, I ran out of food. I looked into the living room and saw the four cases of canned mixed vegetables I was using for furniture. It gets old soon. The next month I switched to Macaroni and Cheese, mixed with tuna, hum.

There was the time I was riding along, to visit a friend, when one car came so close it caused me to lose my balance. I fell into the road, and saw nothing but a Buick Special, or more precisely the tires of the car, inches from my head. Then there was the time I was hit by a van, trying to travel from my mother’s home in Pittsburgh, to Sandusky, to check out graduate school there. It was the side mirror of the van, so I was not greatly damaged, but my arm was in a sling. I had parked on the road berm, but the van driver claimed I was in the road, so it was my fault. When I completed my Bachelor’s I started looking for work, with no car.

The solution of one friend was to spend $20 and print resumes, the mail them to perspective employers. Upon hearing that I did not have $20, his alternate solution was to spend $20 making phone calls to perspective employers. People with money cannot understand what it is like not to have money.

1980 ChevetteA long time ago, before the dinosaurs, I owned a 1980 Chevette. It did have some rust. The floorboard was rotted out such that there was a hole from the firewall to the seat, and you could shake the seat, and from the door to the transmission hump. There were no shock absorbers in the front of the car. There was no place to hook them. The brakes were bad.

I was told at Midas that I had no more than two weeks of brake pad left. Working as a cashier I was not able to save up the money for new brake pads, in particular as working conditions were bad, so I was looking for new work. Not finding it in Ohio, I was saving up to move to Oregon, where family said there was work. I saved for several months and drove this car to Oregon. In the process, I learned how to drive a car, using only the transmission as a brake. I learned to bring the car from 60 miles per hour to a complete stop, using only the transmission, and the parking brake. When the brakes finally completely gave out, I was driving 2 miles per hour in a shopping mall parking lot. I drove the car to my family’s home in Oregon.

I remember being told many times that if I was unemployed, it was because I was not looking hard enough, even though I was looking in six states, and using whatever transportation was available to find that job. Later I owned a car with the clutch out, so I had to speed shift, changing gears without using that clutch. For both cars, it means maximizing gas mileage, never going to fast, coasting, and when using the clutch to stop the car, slowing down a good mile from the stop light. That is why I get better than posted gas mileage for any car I drive. Car and Driver says I should get 20 miles per gallon, I get 25.

Then there was Senior Chief Petty Officer, Senior Chief Theodore (Gift of God) Bronson. A man of my own heart, a true conservative, he decided early that a person with my background had no business being in his man’s navy. First, he placed me in the supply department, not in a medical billet that I had training in. I dutifully did as ordered and asked for placement in the upstairs medical research unit. After several months, he placed me in billets over my training, running computers using computer language I was not trained in and demanding I not make any errors. Under high stress, of course I made errors. I received a below average evaluation.

To relieve the stress, I took a 30-day vacation. I returned to a special evaluation, for the 30 days I was on vacation. As I worked at the animal facility, one day, while walking across the field, I suffered the feeling that I was in a world that was surreal and the rules did not apply. It is a strange feeling, feeling detached from the world and everyone in it. While at this command, I was belittled and berated, in private and in public.

While this was going on, I was informed that I was to receive a general discharge from the navy because of two negative evaluations. I contested the decision. I did win my case, because of a pastor, at church was retired military who wrote a reference, and because of the writing of a very good lawyer. I must wonder what would have happened without the help of these fine men. Would I be like those living on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, or Broad Street in Philadelphia, the slums of the world?

I could never be the person I was, a conservative in the mold of Senior Chief Bronson again. Senior Chief Bronson was also a bully. The instant of death, raw and stunning, is what I felt as I walked across that field at that facility. In his essay

Reflecting on Eden, it is hardly accurate to represent Eden as devoid of suffering. There are at least four conditions in the saga of creation constituting, if not suffering then the stuff out of which some types of human suffering are made. Loneliness is one. Adam is “alone.” Not only so, but this creature becomes acutely conscious of its solitude. Even the Creator must discover, apparently, there is something “not good” in the midst of this goodness: “It is not good that the Adam should be alone” [1]

Suffering emanates not only from loneliness but also from the experience of limits. Humans must encounter the limits of its existence, its powers, its intelligence. Limits are presupposed by the tellers of the creation narrative. Much is permitted in that garden; but in the center stands the living, fruit-bearing symbol of the limitations of creaturely existence, which must not be transgressed.

Temptation belongs to the situation of Eden. The serpent, a creature of God (for there is no ultimate dualism here), makes certain that the human beings become conscious of the thought that they might employ their wits and exceed the limits of their being creature.[2]

Anxiety: It is the anxiety of the creaturely condition that opens Eve to the subtle admonitions of the serpent, the anxiety of ignorance.[3]

Douglas John Hall, like Malthus, argues that the earth always was wilderness and chaos. When we look to God, the final cause, we can, with God’s help, strive to become like him, and inherit eternal life. Regrettably, we can also look to earth, become wilderness and chaos, and sink into the sea as Peter did in the story of Jesus walking on the water. This means we must know our limitations. We must know that we do not know what it is like for the other person to suffer. We can, and must try to relate it to our own suffering. We must relate the other’s anxiety to our anxiety. We must understand our temptation to get what is ours, and keep our eyes closed to the suffering of our neighbor. Some have far greater mental, physical and contextual limits than ourselves and we must account for that.

I learned from Deuteronomy 5:1-7, Remember, “I am the NAME your this one, who rescued you from the land of Oppression, the house of menial labor.” The rabbinic addition is, “You will remember what it was like to be there and you will remember your rescue, then when you see others suffering, it will bring back bad memories and you will do something.” Then there is Shema, “Here you who struggle with the NAME, the NAME is Almighty, the NAME is One. Love the NAME with all your hearts, (“Hearts” is plural, “your” is singular) all your animate being, and with all your measure. “Hearts is plural because we each have multiple hearts, inclinations, which are neither good nor bad. We are to love God with each. When people say you have evil inclinations, love God with those as well. This has been my life focus ever since.

The passage most relating to my experience is Luke 13, which states, “Do you think that the other guy suffers because of what he did? I tell you know, but if you do not straighten out, you are next.” Unlike Malthus, Hall will argue that we do have two ways of dealing with our limitations. We can look to God, our own past suffering, and then address our neighbor’s needs, following God’s example, or we can return to earth, forgotten by history, and our neighbor.

As Gustavo Gutierrez and Jon Sobrino point out, solidarity is important. For Gutierrez, the difference between the old Job who is Tam/simple, and the new Job, who has grown, is that the old Job gives to “them,” and the new Job gives to “us,” those of us who have suffered. Likewise, Sobrino asks us to realize we are in solidarity, a community of unequals. “For who the bell tolls, the bell tolls for us.” Leonardo Buff. As someone who has suffered, the second alternative is not open to me. I am stuck with the first.

[1] Hall, Douglas John (1987-01-01). God and Human Suffering (Kindle Locations 722-728). National Book Network – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Hall, Douglas John (1987-01-01). God and Human Suffering (Kindle Locations 742-746). National Book Network – A. Kindle Edition.

[3] Hall, Douglas John (1987-01-01). God and Human Suffering (Kindle Locations 750-752). National Book Network – A. Kindle Edition

Our Rabbis taught: If at the present time a man desires to become a proselyte, he is to be addressed as follows: ‘What reason have you for desiring to become a proselyte; do you not know that Israel at the present time are persecuted and oppressed, despised, harassed and overcome by afflictions’? If he replies, ‘I know and yet am unworthy’, he is accepted, and is given instruction in some of the minor and some of the major commandments. He is informed of the sin of the neglect of the commandments of Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man’s Tithe. He is told of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments.

He is addressed: ‘Be it known to you that before you came to this condition, if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning’.

As he is informed of the punishment for the transgression of the commandments, he is informed of the reward granted for their fulfillment. ‘Be it known to you that the world to come was made only for the Tzaddakah, and that Israel at the present time are unable to bear either too much prosperity. or too much suffering’.

He is not, however, to be persuaded or dissuaded too much. If he accepted, he is circumcised. Should any shreds which render the circumcision invalid remain, he is to be circumcised a second time. As soon as he is healed arrangements are made for his immediate baptism, when two learned men must stand by his side and acquaint him with some of minor commandments and with some of the major ones. When he comes up after his baptism he is deemed to be an Israelite in all respects.

Two important aspects of this Jewish rule of the Mikvah directly relate to our treatment of infant baptism. The first is that this baptism makes one a member of the Jewish community. Should a person convert and then violate the commandments, his baptism left an indelible mark, as Catholics refer to the idea, and that mark now has consequences. There is one baptism for entry into the community/Daat Israel. There is no rebaptism.

The second is the relationship of baptism and circumcision. St. Paul does away with circumcision, not because he is free to change the laws, but because circumcision makes you Jewish. We are not Jewish; we are Christian. Still, St. Paul also equates baptism & circumcision.

In him dwells/Shekinah/indwelling of the Spirit, the whole fullness of the deity, bodily. You share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. Dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought life to you along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. He also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities & the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it. Colossians 2:9-15

Notice how this passage begins and ends with principalities and powers. This rhetorical device helps frame the passage. Notice how St. Paul, the Jew, equates Circumcision with baptism. Most Jews are circumcised as infants, not adults, and they are circumcised into community, as Yebamoth in the Babylonian Talmud says. St. Paul writes as a Jew. This is a section of Jewish Kaddish, from the Amidah.

amidaNow Please read this section from Romans 1, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” On the surface, this passage means nothing. It is what scholars call a Hebraism. St. Paul has just referred to God, and now feels compelled to add an elision, “Baruch Le olam, Amen,” “Blessed is he forever.”

Ephesians, written about the same time as Colossians writes, “I, prisoner for Kyrie, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit/ Shekinah through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit/Shekinah, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Kyrie, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father/Abbah/Ha Bah/Ahabbah of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Judaism does have many reasons for baptism. Christians discuss one baptism for admission to Christian Ecclesia, Christian Community. This is the rule for baptismal bathing:

The world’s natural bodies of water, oceans, rivers, wells, and spring-fed lakes are mikvahs/ baptismal pools. They contain waters of divine source and, tradition teaches, the power to purify. A mikvah must be built into the ground or built as an essential part of a building. Portable receptacles, such as bathtubs, whirlpools, or Jacuzzis, can therefore never function as mikvahs. The mikvah must contain a minimum of two hundred gallons of rainwater that was gathered and siphoned into the mikvah pool in accordance with a specific set of regulations.

Notice the importance of being tied to the ground. Torah gives us two reasons for the Ten Commandments. The first, in Exodus, relates to the six days the NAME made the sky and the earth. That is why the NAME has blessed Sabbath and Dedicated it. The second reason is the escape from Egypt, which applies, only to Jews. Baptism teaches both lessons. We are both Adam, from Adamah/Red/Ground, and we are rescued from the Red Blood of Jesus Christ.

It once happened that a man came before R. Judah and told him, ‘I have become a proselyte privately’. ‘Have you witnesses’? R. Judah asked. ‘No’, the man replied. ‘Have you children’? ‘Yes’, the man replied. ‘You are trusted’, the Master told him, ‘as far as your own disqualification is concerned but you cannot be relied upon to disqualify your children.

As to the baptism of children, far from disqualifying infant baptism, and child baptism, children present who are proselyte children confirm the conversion of the adults in the Babylonian Talmud. It seems clear that at least in Jewish tradition, infant baptism was allowed. If we really believe in the principle of Ad Fontes, or back to the original sources, the original source is not only Scripture but the culture from which it sprang. This means understanding 1st Century Jewish culture, and the best source for this is the Talmud.

This source makes clear that infant baptism was allowed. This source also makes clear, however, that the baptismal water must contain at least 100 gallons of water and be tied to the ground. This supports the Anabaptist position, and not the main line church tradition of the Church Fathers, Luther, and Calvin.

In his homily on Matthew 3:13, St. John of Chrysostom writes, “On this very account the Jewish baptism ceases, and ours takes its beginning. What was done with regard to the Passover, the same ensues in the baptism also.

As in that case too, He acting with a view to both, brought the one to an end, but to the other. He gave a beginning: so here, having fulfilled the Jewish baptism, He at the same time opens also the doors of that of the Church; as on one table then..

Tertullian is the theologian who gave us the word, “Trinity,” and the words we translate as persons for the Trinity in his work on the Trinity.

Tertullian writes, “According to the circumstances and   disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is   preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children.

Why is it necessary if (baptism) is not so necessary that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger? Who both themselves, by reason of mortality, may fail to fulfill their promises,   and may be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition, in   those for whom they stood…? Why does the innocent period of life   hasten to the “remission of sins…?” Let them know how to “ask” for   salvation, that you may seem to have given “to him that   asks.” If any understand the weighty   import of baptism, they will fear its reception more than its delay.

Based upon this, Constantine himself put off baptism until the last moments of his life, as McGrath states.  Tertullian, second and third centuries, was a member of the Montanist sect.

St Cyprian, third century writes, “Belief in divine Scripture declares that among all, whether infants or those who are older, there is the same equality of the divine gift. Elisha, beseeching God, so laid himself upon the infant son of the widow, who was lying dead, that his head was applied   to his head…

Nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace, how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant. The infant, lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam. He has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.

Based upon this, St. Augustine wrote about original Sin. Joseph Martos writes in his book, Doors of the Sacred, that it was Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, stemming from this last quote that provoked caring mothers of the late Roman Empire to baptize their children.

The earliest writers, including the Talmud, Cyprian of Carthage, St. John of Chrysostom, and Augustine all seem to support infant baptism. They all tie baptism to both penance and entry into Christian community. They are all removed four centuries or less from Jesus, and coming from the Mediterranean Sea, only about a thousand miles removed from Jesus. It took Conrad Grebel and the Anabaptists 1500 years and several thousand miles removed from Jesus to figure out the church fathers were all wrong.

The Anabaptists were right on many if not most issues. Until Constantine, being an actor, or in the military was grounds for not being baptized. A recent president might not have liked that. Most conservatives today, including many Baptists, followers of the Anabaptist movement, might not like that. Like the Amish and the Mennonites, they also supported things like the common ownership of property, or at least equal distribution of property. They were correct on insisting that baptism be tied to the ground and relating baptism to bringing us back to the soil. On the point of our discussion, the baptism of infants, we must disagree.


The healing of the Leper, and John’s healing of the blind man point the way to the healing of the paralytic

ParalyticA leper came to Jesus kneeled down and begged him, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be clean.” The leprosy immediately left him, and he was clean.

If we do not know Hebrew/Aramaic, we will miss the important part of the passage. “וַיָּבוֹא אֵלָיו אִישׁ מְצרָע. Exodus 1:1, “ וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה.” “These are the names of the sons of Israel when they came to Egypt.” Notice the shape of the last letters of both passages. “מְצרָע.”

The word for Egypt and the word for Leprosy is the same word. The Hebrew word for Egypt is the word for Oppression, anywhere, at any time. The Hebrew word for a wasp is “מְצרָע.”

“Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I have come.” Jesus preaches freedom from oppression, and this healing points the way.

Jesus heals the blind manHere is the story of the blind man in John’s Gospel.

His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who deviated, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents deviated; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam (Sent/“let my people go) and wash.”

We see reference to the Exodus, just as we did in the healing of the leper. The Semitic origins of the Gospel are all through the Gospels when we know where to look for them. The important thing to notice, however are how there are other reasons for suffering than punishment.

Prodigal sonOne more story is required before discussing the paralytic, the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15: 11. Notice, the older son’s behavior.

In no place does the story relate how the older son came to know how the younger one lost his money. We, know it was squandered, but as far as the older son knows, he invested well, but lost anyway.

In Deuteronomy’s Ten Commandments, the word for “False,” as in, “Do not bear false witness,” is the same word used in “Vain,” as in “Do not take God’s name in vain.” Vain witness is saying something, improvable true or not. The older son does just that. He does not know how the younger son lost his money, but tells a tale anyway.

ParalyticThey came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. When Jesus saw their faith, he told the paralytic, “Child, your errors are forgiven.” Some grammarians sat, asking, “Why does this man speak that way? He slanders. Who but God alone can forgive errors?”

Jesus said, “Why are you thinking such things? Which is easier, to tell the paralytic, ‘Your errors are forgiven,’ or, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? That you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth, rise, pick up your mat; go home.” Many have undertaken to guess the sin/error of the paralytic. This presupposes he has one, just as the older son in the prodigal son story presupposes that his returning younger brother must have squandered the money.

In, “Rise, pick up your mat and go home,” Jesus plays the domineer role. “Do this; do that; do the next thing.” The process continues. Assuming the paralytic’s guilt, the grammarians also continue the process.

The paralytics paralysis would be from guilt, not error, if he were the victim of child abuse. The only cure would be to undo the decades of abuse for real and imagined faults. Jesus would be correct even if the child is guilty of no more than anyone else is. “Child, your errors are forgiven.” This addresses how guilt paralyzes the child.

For the healing to work, the paralytic must believe Jesus has the authority to forgive his real or imagined error. Whatever he did wrong in the past will succeed now. He must feel empowered. A third thing that is required is that he must know what to do next. With Jesus’ choice of empowerment, the child’s sense of gratitude will show him what to do next. No more directions are required. Love/gratitude for the weight of past abuse being lifted impels him ever forward.

“That you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, rise, pick up your mat; go home.” In the Psalms and Ezekiel, “Son of Man” refers to all people. All have the authority to forgive sins/errors. “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I have come.” Jesus leaves the village. He cannot empower the child. If the paralytic is going to be empowered it is going to have to be by those who remain, us.