WORD STUDY – LIKE WHAT YOU ARE קמר
Leviticus 19:18: “But thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Mark 12:31: “And the second is like this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“Good shepherd, tell this youth what tis to love?
It is to be all made of sighs and tears,
It is to be all made of faith and service.”
Shakespeare – As You Like It Act 5, Scene 2
“And would some Power give us the gift. To see ourselves as others see us.” Ode To A Louse – Robert Burns.
The Greek New Testament uses the word agape for love in Mark 12:31. In the Aramaic the word that is used is chav which is the same as the word in Hebrew in the Leviticus passage which is ahav. We know that agape is an unconditional love. Yet, ahav is not agape. Ahav is a love that may or may not be returned. I remember a Hollywood movie star told of a time when the doctor said her daughter had a terminal illness. After getting the news she went out to the desert and when totally alone for one half hour she cursed God out, cursed out Jesus and said that if she knew there was a Holy Spirit she would have cursed Him out as well. After one half hour of cursing out God there was a silence and then she heard an audible voice that said: “That is the first time you’ve spoken to me, I love you.” That would fit ‘ahav. God loved her even when she hated Him. However, after that experience the love between her and God became racham, this is a tender love that is mutually shared. There is a growing belief that the Gospels were written in Aramaic, if not written in Aramaic, it had at some point to be translated from the Aramaic as that is the language that Jesus and Mark spoke. Thus the Aramaic word here is that we are to chav our neighbor. That means we are to love our neighbor even if they do not return our love, even if they return our love with hatred.
Who is our neighbor? The word used for neighbor in Leviticus is ra’ah. Ra’ah is commonly rendered as evil but it is also rendered as friend. In its Semitic origins it means a consuming passion. A consuming passion can be evil. It might refer to one who has a consuming passion of dislike or even hatred for you. The Greek word in Mark 12:31 is plesion which means one that you would be a companion, a co-worker or someone you must deal with whether you like him or not, like a neighbor. Neighbors in ancient times were forced to get along because they had to share so much and they lived so closely together. If you didn’t like your neighbor, that was tough. You could not just pack up and leave like we can do today, you just could not quit your job like we can do today. A neighbor in ancient times could make your life miserable unless you tried to get along. The Septuagint uses plesion in Leviticus 19:18 as well and I think the common definition between plesion and ra’ah is that this is someone you are forced to have in your life no matter how disagreeable the person is. You may hate the person and he may hate you but you are stuck on the same ship and are dependent upon each other. Curiously, the Aramaic word used for neighbor in Mark is qariva which comes from the same root and in fact is identical to the word qerava which means someone your are in conflict, battle, fight or are at war with.
Not only are we to love or ahav these people we are in conflict with but we are to ahav them as ourselves. The word as ourselves in Hebrew is kamaka which literally means like what you are. The word in Aramaic is nephsah which is the word for soul. You are to love this person as you love your soul. Your soul is what you are. We all have our faults, we all have something that is just not loveable but that is what we are. Your neighbor may have a lot of faults, but so do you. You are lucky your neighbor puts up with you.
In my book Ancient Words Put into a Modern Context, I tell of a woman who rides my disability bus. She is the most obnoxious person you want to meet. She is one of these little old, sour, prune faced bitty of a woman who finds fault with everything you do. You can’t sneeze without her commenting our it’s disgusting style and the selfish motivations behind it. Not only that, she will insist she could do it better. I learned she went through six care givers in one month. No one wanted the assignment. None of the bus drivers want to drive her, me included. Yet, one day this woman commented to me: “I just don’t see why people treat me so bad, I try to be nice to everyone.” I thought of sharing the quote by Robert Burns but then thought better of it.
Jesus is not saying to love others like we love ourselves. Boy I hope not, I met a lot of people who hate themselves, but what He did say is: Love others because you are really no better than they are, you are all a bunch of sinners. So if they can put up with you, the least you can do is put up with them.”