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Ald. Burke Defends Ten Commandments Joke, Citing Catholic Church Catechism

By Mark Konkol | November 2, 2015 5:34am
 Ald. Burke says his joke works — as long as you follow the Vatican's order of Ten Commandments.
Ald. Burke says his joke works — as long as you follow the Vatican's order of Ten Commandments.
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DNAinfo; Wikimedia Commons

THE LOOP — Ald. Ed Burke (14th), Chicago’s longest-serving ward boss, is a master storyteller, Chicago historian, a noted expert on the South Side Irish, a devout Catholic and, I recently found out, a guy who takes his City Council stand-up routine seriously.

On Thursday, I publicly accused Burke of flubbing a joke about the Ten Commandments that he delivered on the City Council floor just before he and 34 other aldermen voted in favor of the biggest property tax hike in Chicago history.

From the press box, it seemed Burke offered it as a lesson that in the toughest negotiations you often make a compromise and still don’t get what you want.

I wrote: “Burke told a classic crackup about that one time, Moses, after speaking to God on Mount Sinai, returned with two tablets to find his followers clamoring to find out what happened. Burke told it better, but here's the gist:

Moses tells his flock: I’ve got good news and bad news. Good news is that I got the Good Lord down to just Ten Commandments. Then, Burke delivers the punch line, "The bad news is ‘six’ and ‘nine’ are still in.”

In dissing Burke's version, I cited Google as evidence that particular Ten Commandments joke is supposed to end with "and adultery is still in."

Plus, according to the Internet, the sixth commandment is "Thou shalt not kill.” And the ninth commandment is "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," which is to say, you shouldn't lie.

Also, I pointed out, both of those are commandments— particularly in shoot-‘em-up parts of town and in Chicago politics — we shouldn’t wish away.

When Burke got wind of I wrote, he called me up to protect the integrity of his joke.

First he rattled off his Catholic pedigree — he was educated in his faith at St. Basil-Visitation, Quigley Preparatory Seminary and DePaul University — and pointed me to Section 2, Chapter 2 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to prove he did not flub the punch line.

Indeed, the Vatican lists the Ten Commandments in a different order than you’ll find in the Bible. The sixth commandment is “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and the ninth commandment is “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”

That’s the problem with living in Chicago and not being Catholic, I told Burke. I’m just not on the same numbering system.

Burke agreed, saying that in hindsight he was a little surprised to get such a big laugh in mixed religious company at City Hall.

After all, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who butted in on Burke’s joke to say, “You all better know what six and nine are, too” — is of the Jewish faith, which needless to say has a different order for the Ten Commandments than Roman Catholics.

In the end, I’ll admit Burke’s version of the classic Ten Commandments joke is technically correct ... for a certain crowd.

But some people will still say Burke flubbed it — the same way the City Council flubbed the budget by rubberstamping the mayor's historic property tax increase.

See, alderman, that's how you deliver a punch line in mixed company — even when it's not a joke. 

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