Proverbs are delightful. They offer a window into a culture. I especially enjoy pairs of proverbs which seem contradictory. One of my favorite pairs is found in Proverbs 26.4-5. I’ll quote in Hebrew for our nerdy friends (and because Hebrew fonts just look cool) and in English.
אַל־תַּ֣עַן כְּ֭סִיל כְּאִוַּלְתּ֑וֹ פֶּֽן־תִּשְׁוֶה־לּ֥וֹ גַם־אָֽתָּה׃
עֲנֵ֣ה כְ֭סִיל כְּאִוַּלְתּ֑וֹ פֶּן־יִהְיֶ֖ה חָכָ֣ם בְּעֵינָֽיו׃
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
lest you yourself also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own estimation. (NET)
A few months ago, I learned a similar pair of proverbs in Maa:
Ebaiki ninyor, nimiret.
Mebaiki ninyor, nimiret.
For those interested in such things, here’s the IPA phonetic pronunciation:
Ɛbáɨ́kɨ nɨ́nyɔ̄r, nímīrēt.
Mɛbáɨ́kɨ nɨ́nyɔ̄r, nímīrēt.
Perhaps you love him/her, yet you don’t help him/her.
It cannot happen that you love him/her and you don’t help him/her.
(My list of Maa pronouns includes over 200. This, of course, does not count the innumerable constructions which are possible through the use of pronominal prefixes and infixes. But Maa doesn’t distinguish between he/she/it — “ninye” does triple duty. In these proverbs, ninye isn’t used. Instead, pronominal prefixes/infixes indicate both subject and object.)
The initial verb in each of these proverbs is interesting; ɛbáɨ́kɨ / ebaiki is literally “it is reached” or “it is arrived at.” Idiomatically it is “maybe” or “perhaps”. The pronominal 3rd person prefix ɛ- is replaced with mɛ- in the second one. Depending on tone, this is either negative or subjunctive; here it is negative. Thus ɛbáɨ́kɨ / ebaiki introduces something that is conceivably possible whereas mɛbáɨ́kɨ / mebaiki indicates that what follows is inconceivable and impossible.
Ebaiki ninyor, nimiret. Perhaps you love him/her, yet you don’t help him/her.
Within human relationships, it is quite imaginable that we profess love for someone and yet there is no actual demonstration of love. We say “we love you” but don’t help the supposed beloved, and in fact we often harm instead (whether by sin of commission or sin of omission).
Mebaiki ninyor, nimiret. It cannot happen that you love him/her and you don’t help him/her.
Thus our actions (or inactions) will belie our words. “The proof is in the pudding,” as the old English proverb states.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”
Show me your faith without works
and I will show you faith by my works.”
(James 2.18, NET)
Love does no harm to its neighbor.
Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
(Romans 13.10 NIV-1984)
If we claim to love while either actively harming or simply refusing to assist, our actions prove that we do not, in fact love.
Mebaiki ninyor, nimiret. It is not possible to love in merely word or sentiment. Love helps those who are loved.
Beloved, let us love one another.
(1 John 4.7)