Breach-maker or breaker.
That’s what the Hebrew word “poretz” (poor-ates) means.
Came across it in my reading of that Old Testament prophet Micah’s relatively brief, Isaiah-like tome. Here’s the passage:
House of Jacob, I will gather you together;
I will gather up the remnant of Israel
I will guard them like a flock of sheep in their fold,
like sheep safe in their pasture,
a noisy multitude.
One will make a breach and lead the way;
the rest will break it open further
and leave as through a gate.
Their ruler will pass before them
with YHWH at the head.
One scholar notes:
Most Middle Eastern sheepfolds were a stone fence. After the sheep were led into the fold for the night, the shepherd would seal the entrance with rocks or debris, often sleeping across the threshold. In the morning, the shepherd went to the fence and shoved the rocks out of the way, making a breach in the wall that the sheep pushed through, widening the opening. Then the shepherd – the breachmaker or “breaker” (Hebrew poretz) – would lead the sheep back out into green pastures. The “breaking forth” was not a singular event, but an everyday occurrence for a flock that has already been gathered into the sheepfold.
This picture got me to thinking.
Thinking about how our systems of thought – whether theological, scientific, political, philosophical, or whatever – resemble such a sheepfold that keeps our thoughts carefully corralled and safe and under control. We have shepherds, of course – theologians or pulpit pundits, journalists, political commentators, columnists, societal thinkers, etc. that we turn to regularly to keep thieving contrary thoughts from stealing into the sheepfold and making havoc of our nicely kept and guarded mindset.
How crucial it is for there to be room to breathe in our thinking!
Or on the sheepfold analogy, to have an open space that can be breached regularly so our minds are free to break out, to roam a bit over green fields and find fresh pasture. Good shepherds start the breach and invite the sheep to widen it. Bad shepherds turn sheepfolds into prisons designed to keep intruders out and the sheep forever locked in.
How desperately we need mind breakers who will knock holes in our lovely secure space and lead us out. How often we get stuck in the same stinking sheepfold day in and day out. Whether it’s political discourse, religious debates, or verbal cultural jousting, it seems too many have been locked up in the same walls for far too long and are endlessly baaaaaahing the same old bleating answers into the stale air of their mental enclosures and its noisy multitudes.
What a wonderful time for a poretz.
In my experience, Jesus has been and continues to be the ultimate poretz. We, of course, try our best to domesticate and make him serve our ends, just as we will to any genuine poretz, but he relentlessly refuses to be enclosed in our theological, ecclesiastical, political or thought systems. Always the poretz is knocking a hole in our enclosures and leading us out to new places – if we will only follow.
This week I’ve been reading John Ortberg’s latest, Who Is This Man? Wonderful read. Ortberg points out that in reciting the “great commandment” to love God with all our heart and soul and strength that he added (poretz!) a fourth crucial element to the Hebrew equation: with all our mind. God is glorified in a mind that thinks. Two pertinent quotes from the book:
Loving God with all your mind means answering the works of people you disagree with, rather than burning the works. Loving God with all your mind means you don’t have to be nervous about where a book might lead if its reader is sincerely seeking truth.
Just this past week I was asked by someone with a disapproving shake of the head, “So why do you carry Rob Bell books in this bookstore?” In a word – because the filtering needs to happen on the user end rather than on the supply side. We need an unwalled door to the sheepfold. Bell has some things worth saying and hearing and processing. We are called to glorify God by thinking, not by bleating out the same, safe, repeated lines. Bell can be a wonderul poretz for both mind and soul. It’s what good writers do for their readers – and those are the writers I’m drawn to. I can sense in the first few pages whether I am sitting with a thinker stirring me to fresh thought or a mindless regurgitator keeping me confined in the fold.
To love God with all my mind means following truth ruthlessly wherever it leads. It means cherishing truth whether it comes from the Bible or from science or from an atheist. It means anti-intellectualism is anti-Christian.
It’s also anti-human.
Once more into the breach, dear friends…