Interpreting the Shema

How does the atheist know basic right from wrong if he doesn’t have DivineJess theses statement in Luke revelation?

“Teacher, which Mitzvah in the teaching is the greatest?”

He told him, “You shall love the NAME, your God, with all your hearts, with all your animate being, and with all your measure.

This is the greatest and the first Mitzvah. The second is like (dam oat) it: You shall love your neighbor/Rai-a as yourself.

The whole teaching and the prophets depend on these two Mitzvah.”

Deuteronomist plays with this passage which Jesus quotes, first in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. In Deuteronomy 6, “Hearts” is plural and “Your,” is singular. In chapter 11, “Your,” is plural.
In chapter 30, we see Deuteronomist playing with the idea again.



“Return to the NAME, your God, listening to his voice, according to all that I Mitzvah to you today, you and your children, with your whole hearts and with all of your animate being.”


“The NAME, your God, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love the NAME, your God, with your whole heart and your animate being, in order that you may live.”


“You will listen to the voice of the NAME, your God, guard the Mitzvah and customs written in this book of the instruction, when you return to the NAME, your God, with your whole hearts and your whole being.”

“This Mitzvah I give you this day is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth* and in your heart, to do it.”

It is not in the head. Concepts change from time to time and from place to place. That’s why we can’t go, “over there,” to get them. As with the Blessed Virgin who “kept all of these things in her heart,” we find basic right and wrong in our hearts.

All people made in God’s image have this image of basic right and wrong, given by God. That’s the reason dead baby pictures work so well. Pro-choice people can see in their hearts the humanity held within the picture that their brains want to hide.

This pic says it allPro-lifeThe reason dead and dying children pictures work so well in relation to the poor of the world is that we can all see the humanity when faced with them in pictures of the poor. There is no running from the pictures.

Verse 19 continues, “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!

A rabbi I once read in the Jerusalem Post pointed out how verse 19 is one of the 613 commandments. What would it mean for choosing life to be a commandment? We have seen how chapter 30 removes the “And with all your measure,” and replaces measure with “Life.”


Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire
Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire.  Imperial Foods processing plant fire. Bangladesh Rana Plaza collapse. 

The writer of Deuteronomy lived two hundred years before Aristotle, but they seem to have the same idea in mind. Deuteronomist was a pre-Aristotelian, Aristotelian. For Aristotle life is always in the process of becoming what it already is. We will see that Deuteronomist thinks the same way.


“Life” is the focus of this chapter. As we meet people on the street God calls us to choose life for them. How do we do this? Jesus quotes Leviticus 19 where it says, The second is like (Dam oat) it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When God makes mankind in his likeness, the word is “Dam oat). “Neighbor” in Hebrew sounds exactly the same as “To see.” It sounds and spells exactly the same as “Pastor,” and “Herd of sheep.”Four Causes

You will see your neighbor as you see yourself, a human being trying to get from cradle to grave in one piece. You see him as a fellow member of God’s herd, made in his image, trying to find his way to his final end who is God himself. You will see him with hopes and joys, wishes and desires, pains and sufferings, and things he desire to avoid.


You will see him with unfulfilled potential and seeing that in yourself, you will strive to fulfill his potential. The atheist has this in his heart as we do. He may be wrong on the final goal, but he has that striving in his heart.

Seeing that potentiality in all people we can see what is radically wrong with the conservative pro-life argument. They are too busy using conceptual, mind, arguments to prove when life begins. The first question is, “What is life.” The Latin words, “Vitality,” and “Vivacious,” give the answer and it isn’t basic subsistence.

If God calls us to see the potentiality in all people and to fulfill that potential, and this is that Jerusalem Post rabbi’s article again, it doesn’t matter when life begins. The fetus in the womb is potential life from the moment of conception until the day it dies 90 years later of old age.

Aristotle is famous for one other very important thing as it relates to this article. During his age, the Greek gods were dying out. They were also far from moral. Aristotle had to come up with another way of defining right and wrong, if it didn’t come from the gods. He came to the conclusion, there was natural law, a law built into our hearts. In this he repeats Deuteronomy even though he probably did not know of Deuteronomist. Through Cicero this concept finds its way to Augustine who returns God to the formula through Divine Law. From Augustine it finds its way to St. Thomas Aquinas, and through some others to John Locke, Rousseau, and Charles-Louis de Montesquieu. Through these men it found its way to Thomas Jefferson who wrote:

declaration-of-independenceWhen in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.

James Madison, who wrote our Constitution was also a part of this chain. It needs to be remembered that “General Welfare” is part of this chain, being found in Cicero’s Republic and Augustine’s City of God. St. Augustine, ever the musician, took pains to relate the Ten Commandments and General Welfare with music, using the Hundred Piece Orchestra example of Cicero.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Happy 4th of July! This guy posed for Terri and Larry Garside as they were coming down through Klamath Falls.But “The liberals do this,” and “The conservatives to that.” The liberal and conservative wings are on the same bird.

God calls us to fulfill the life, the general welfare of the mother at home as she cares for her children, in the factory and office with her spouse, on the streets where she should not fear those with guns, or the polluted air or water. God calls us to stop global warming so her children and great grand children can fulfill their lives. Therefore, yes, God calls us as a nation to fulfill the life of the fetus in the womb.

Deuteronomy 30 and the Shema both call us to love God. How do we love God? What do we give someone who literally already has everything? We love honor and respect what is his, in particular what is made in his image, each other.

Genesis 2:15 gives God’s first command, a command that has never been rescinded, the command to cultivate and care for his garden, our planet. In his planet we help each other live their lives, and pursue the general welfare, and strive in the face of corporate power to keep their liberty. God calls us to cultivate and care for each other too. Loving God by following this command, is all their is to basic right and wrong. The atheist has this in his heart too.

The paradox of paying Taxes to Caesar

Jess theses statement in LukeTell us, what is your opinion: Is it allowed to give the census to Caesar or not?” (The Greek word for “Census” is “Censos.” The Greek word for giving implies religion.)

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin paying the census tax.”

They handed him the Roman coin.


He told them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

They replied, “Caesar’s.”

He told them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”Courtesy Holy Land Pilgrimage  coin from 66-73 bce

It is generally argued how this passage means to pay one’s taxes and be a good citizen, whatever that means, and not much else. The problem with this interpretation is context.

The Pharisees say, “You are not concerned with anyone’s opinion; you do not regard a person’s status.” Translation, “You are hard hearted.” For a religion that says Pharaoh’s main deviation was his sclerotic heart, there is no finer insult. Jesus calls them hypocrites, actors. There is clearly no love loss between the two and they are not trying to reconcile.

The Pharisees, trying to avoid confrontation with Rome, would have loved, “Pay one’s taxes and be a good citizen.” Instead, they were offended. Why?

There is another interpretation that better fits the context. Jesus is telling them to return to Rome all that bears Rome’s stamp. That includes the coins, the roads, the bridges, the aqueducts… everything.

This was tried once in the United States, in 1956, six months after my birth. Martin Luther King Jr. ended up serving a year in jail for the boycott. Until recently, segregation ended. Giving back to Rome everything that belongs to Rome can be very powerful.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

Jesus’ argument also shows how co-dependent we are on our Rome. They provide the police, the military, the roads, the bridges the sewage system, the water, they take out the trash and more. To affect change, we must give up our co-dependence. Giving to Caesar what belongs to him means not trusting Caesar for our subsistence. It means paying our taxes and otherwise ignoring the government, pretending it is not there.

Jesus’ response brings up a powerful second half, give to God, what belongs to God. What belongs to God?

Deuteronomy 5 gives a good summation of the answer. This is the Ten Mitzvah, the Ten Commandments. There are 15 command statements in this passage. The implied verb of verse six is stated in verse 15. “Remember.” Remember, “I am the NAME your God, who brought you out of the land of Oppression, out of the house of menial labor.”

The Ten WordsTo truly remember is to get that knot in our gut when we see others suffer and do something. It means being so involved as a society in preventing suffering, we don’t have time to cause suffering. It means being so busy in mutually assisting one another become all they can be, there is no room for violation of any other commandments. Giving to God means giving to our neighbor who is made in God’s image.

How do we resolve the paradox? We must give, but the less fortunate must not take.

Rabbi Hillel, who lived a generation before Jesus stated a rule of interpretation. “Analogy made from another passage.” Two passages may seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity.

That third passage is Deuteronomy 28. “If you diligently listen to the voice of the NAME, your God, carefully guarding all his Mitzvah I give you today, the NAME, your God, will set you high above all the nations of the earth.. You will lend to many nations but borrow from none. The NAME will make you the head not the tail, the top not the bottom, if you listen to the Mitzvah of the NAME, your God, which I give you today, guarding them carefully, not turning aside, either to the right or to the left, from any of the words which I give you this day, following other gods and serving them.”

statue-of-liberty-2If we as a society serve only one god, not the Trinity of Mercury, Mars, and Juno Moneto, the markets, the Military, and money, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there will be nobody in need. We will have created the perfect society, where all make sure nobody suffers.

We’ll be different from the nations, the Goyim, as Israelites and the Yiddish say. “Goyim,” means both a crowd and a corpse. If we read on in our Gospel reading we will read where Jesus tells us, “‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

We aren’t the corpse of the other nations, a Latin word meaning being born together by national heritage if not by blood or place of birth. We are alive, vital, vivacious and God calls us to bring our life to others. Given this, the 1.5% of income given to charity by Catholics is entirely not acceptable. We strive to be a society where all are equal, where nobody is perennially on the receiving end, and nobody is perennially on the giving end, because all of our needs are met, where we all live our lives out in vitality and vivaciousness.