Never Say the Shema to the Pope

For those of you who are not familiar with terms common in Judaism, the "Shema" is both a mitzvah (commandment) and prayer.  It is considered to be the most important mitzvah and prayer in Judaism.  The name "Shema" is taken from the first Hebrew word of the mitzvah, so it simply means "Hear!" Or "Listen!".  The first part of the mitzvah is found in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4, which is translated: "Hear O Yisrael: YHWH Our Elohim, YHWH is One!"  This can also be translated as "Hear O Yisrael: YHWH is Our Elohim, YHWH Alone!" The Hebrew retains both meanings, not just one meaning, hence this first portion declares both the Oneness of Elohim and the requirement of those in covenant with Him (i.e. Yisrael) to worship Him and Him Alone!

The second portion of the mitzvah and prayer is often called the "V'ahavta" (meaning "And you will love"), and is taken from the next verse, Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:5, which is translated: "And you will love YHWH Your Elohim with all of your heart (or mind), with all of your being (or soul), and with all of your might (or strength)!"

While Christians are not by and large familiar with the name "Shema", they do know these words very well.  In two of the three canonical accounts of the Besorah (Gospels), Yeshua (Jesus) also quoted these words from the Torah and said that they were the greatest mitzvah of the Torah (Mattityahu / Matthew 28:35-38; and Marqos / Mark 12:28-30).  In the third canonical account of the Besorah, Yeshua stated that obeying this mitzvah was the key to inheriting eternal life (Luqas / Luke 10:25-28).

The first reason I am expounding these words is so that I can clearly establish that they are the most important words from both the Torah and the Besorah to learn, meditate on, and obey.  They are the foundation of both the Torah and the Besorah.  The second reason I am bringing them up is that, as they call for strict allegiance to YHWH and Him Alone, these words shouldn't be applied to anyone or anything else, either verbally or in deeds -- to do so would be, for lack of a better term, idolatry.  The Torah and the Besorah both command us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but the degree of love commanded to be given to YHWH is above all others, including ourselves.  That goes for everyone outside of YHWH Himself, regardless of who they are or how important they are to any of us individually.

I don't think anything I've said here so far should be too controversial to either Christians or Jews.  I can imagine that some might have an objection if their religious views are bit more loose on the subject of devotion, but I don't think anything less than what I've said is consistent with the Scriptures.  What I want to expound here is a recent incident that illustrates just how far away from this ideal many have let themselves drift.  Before I get into the specifics of that incident, let me give you some background on those involved and the circumstances that led up to the incident.

Pope Francis has the monumental task of trying to clean up an extremely corrupt organization, particularly some of the smaller sub-organizations that have brought shame and division to the Church, some of which were well-known to his predecessors Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, but which were either ignored by them or not properly handled.

One of the worst of the scandals surrounds an organization called the Legion of Christ, a right-wing Catholic organization which specifically concentrated on recruitment of young men and boys.  Its founder, Marcial Maciel, who was one of the most well-loved Catholic clergy in the world, and known to be one of the greatest fundraisers the Church had ever seen, eventually faced allegations of plagiarism, drug abuse, and many instances of ongoing child sexual abuse over the many decades of his career in the order he founded.  The allegations were communicated to the Vatican by now-adult Priests who were once his victims as long ago as the mid-70s.  Pope John Paul is a well-loved Pope for many reasons, and I don't intend to detract from those reasons, but in the case of this communication sent to him officially by those Priests, he completely dropped the ball.  Not only did he do nothing with the information given to him at that time, he went on to hold a celebration for Marcial Maciel, praising him to the public.  This angered some of those Priests who had communicated their concerns so much that quite a few of them resigned, leaving the Priesthood and in some cases even the Church altogether.

When Pope Benedict ascended to his "throne" in the early part of this new millennium, he insisted on an investigation into those allegations and made promises to hold those who were responsible for this accountable.  After the investigation was done, very little actually happened.  While Pope Benedict apparently saw that the allegations were true, his response was to invite Marcial Maciel to leave public life and live out his days in private prayer and penance.  This means, he was not held accountable for his actions to any real degree.  He was not even required to apologize or seek the forgiveness of those whom he had abused.  When Marcial Maciel died a few years later, it was discovered that he had mistresses and children on the side in several locations of the world, including Europe and Mexico, all in violation of his vows,  It was also discovered that he had molested many of his own children, including two of his sons in Mexico, while taking them on family holidays.  Many victims had put much hope and trust in Pope Benedict's promises to do a public cleanup of the organization, and specifically to deal with the offenses around the Legion of Christ, so his move left many of them deflated and hopeless, and the news that he had done this to his own children only made the situation worse for all of those involved.

Now fast forward to 2013, the year when Pope Benedict resigned (very likely due to the stress of dealing with these situations within the Church) and Pope Francis took his place.  Pope Francis has been been the most emphatic by far among the recent Popes in insisting that this filth in the Catholic Church must be cleaned up.  Now, I must admit to everyone who reads this that I don't care much for Pope Francis, but I do have to give him credit for at least his claims that he will do what he needs to do to clean up the organization.  His task is daunting and will require him to swim quickly through a bog of politics that is likely thicker than tar, and just as inescapable.  It's little wonder that when the announcement was made of his ascension to the position of Pope in Vatican City, his first act was not to bless those outside waiting to hear the announcement, which was and is a tradition held by Popes back nearly 1000 years, but instead to ask the crowd for their prayer and blessing, clearly wanted to assist him in taking on the tougher tasks ahead.  He hasn't stopped there -- more than any Pope in the history of the position and the Catholic Church, he has asked for blessings from his parishioners and non-parishioners as often as he's given them out.

Now I have to introduce a new character to this story, this time of the Protestant persuasion: one Kenneth Copeland.  Wikipedia describes Kenneth Copeland as "... one of the leaders of the Charismatic Movement and is an American author, musician, public speaker, and televangelist."  He is also a known as a proponent of the so-called "Prosperity Gospel".  Whatever else he personally is, his ministry is firmly in the arena of the Protestant faith, which is where the Charismatic and "Prosperity Gospel" movements firmly sit.  In early 2014, Kenneth Copeland held a leadership conference which was televised.  An Anglican/Episcopalian friend of Pope Francis' attended this conference and delivered a video message from Pope Francis to Kenneth Copeland, which he then televised for his audience.  In this video message, the Pope addressed him by offering his blessings to Copeland and company, and as has become his signature task, asking for Copeland and company's blessing in return.  Again, this is how Pope Francis has operated of late, and outside of being careful who you ask for prayers, which I think is a serious request and a frankly serious matter, I don't really have criticism.  The Pope's words seemed very sincere, and he seemed to genuinely want to bridge the long-term gap between Catholicism and Protestantism by making this very humble request.

What happened next is what sort of bothered me.  Kenneth Copeland first responded by offering a prayer for Pope Francis, a prayer he spoke in "tongues", then he had the Anglican/Episcopalian friend of the Pope who delivered the message to the conference take a video with his smartphone to take back with him of him and his congregation offering their blessings.  You can watch the entire video here:

If you don't want to watch the whole 45 minute presentation, you don't need to. What I wanted to concentrate on is what happens towards the end of this presentation, which is the part when Kenneth Copeland actually gives his blessing.  This point can be reached in that video at the 43 minute 45 second mark.  Click that link and listen closely.  Let me quote what he just at that point in the video said for those that couldn't access the link, or didn't get the significance of his words:
"And we bless you [the Pope] with all of our hearts, we bless you with all of our souls, and we bless you with all of our might."
Did anyone get that?  Kenneth Copeland basically said the "Shema" to the Pope.  He used the term "bless" instead of "love", but in all seriousness that's not much of a difference when it comes to this all important mitzvah, whose purpose is to direct our devotional attentions to YHWH Our Elohim, and not to anyone else.  The issue isn't as much about which offering he makes to the Pope in this case, whether love or blessings, but the level of devotion he has applied.  If you have blessed someone else with everything you have, with a complete, total, and all consuming blessing, then what have you left for your blessings to Elohim?  The level of devotion isn't something that can simply be transferred.

I first saw this video while observing Shavuot (Pentecost) in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) in 2014.  I watched it with a few friends I was staying with.  One of them mentioned that while he and his wife were viewing this video back in the States earlier in the year, his wife caught the incident here to which I am referring.  I am not sure I would have caught it had he not mentioned this to me while we watched the video, but that's often how subtle this kind of thing can be.  But while we may miss details like these from time to time, I have absolutely no doubt that Elohim is paying very close attention and that He misses nothing.

I am sure many will see this and think I am taking it too far, that I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but I don't think so.  We must be very careful with our words, particularly when they express devotion.  What we say does mean something, something that literally makes the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness, and Elohim is paying full attention.  As Yeshua very astutely declares:
"For the mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart.  A good man brings forth good from his good treasures, and an evil man brings forth evil from his evil treasure.  I say to you that for every vain word that the sons of men speak, they will give an account of it in the day of judgement.  For by your words you will be made righteous, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mattityahu / Matthew 12:34-37).
These two groups represent mountains of idolatry already.  The Catholic Church's historical obsessions with relics, images, Mary, saints, and even the Pope himself, have often reached the level of worship and are certainly noteworthy, but in more direct relation to the problems Pope Francis is facing in the organization, there is a very real idolatry centered on the clergy as a whole, one of protectionism at all costs, even at the expense of the innocence of its most innocent members, the children who have been victims of sexual abuse from their ranks.  Copeland's ministry likewise has historically been stuck firmly in the idolatry of financial prosperity, the so-called "Prosperity Gospel".  Yeshua made it clear that this kind of devotion to wealth is a form of idolatry when he said:
"No man is able to serve two masters, for either he will set one aside and he will love the other, or he will honor one and treat the other with contempt.  You are not able to serve Elohim and money." (Mattityahu / Matthew 6:24).
These organizations have a long way to go to bring themselves out of the ditch of idolatry they have dug for themselves, and directing that kind of adoration to one another is not a step in the proper path to successfully pulling themselves out of it.

Yeshua didn't just identify the "Shema" as the first great mitzvah or commandment of the Torah.  He also identified the second: to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  He stated that these two were the foundation of the entirety of the Torah and of the Nevi'im (prophets).  These two actually define our relationship to Elohim and to other human beings, requiring absolute devotion to Elohim and a directive to love all others with the same concern we show to our own respective persons.  That is a wide circle of folks to love, and it includes both Kenneth Copeland and the Pope -- that's what we are commanded to do, and that's what we all should do, but there's an obvious difference in the type of devotion that is reserved to Elohim vs. that which is reserved for each other.  Hence, it's extremely important to save your absolute devotion for Elohim alone, and by all means, never say the "Shema" to anyone other than Him.

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