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The Kind Messiah

by Tim O'Hearn

It is sometimes enlightening to look at similar words in a language and determine their relationship, if any, to one another. English, of course, is largely made up of words or forms borrowed from other languages, so there are bound to be similarities. For instance, comportment (behavior) and deportment (the manner in which one conducts himself in public) are very similar. The first comes from forms meaning “carry with” and the second meaning “carry from.” Thus they both relate to how one carries himself. Naturally, there is a danger in such an exercise; some words that look alike may have no common ancestry, and may even mean something quite dissimilar. That word “dissimilar” (not alike) has no relationship to the similar sounding “dissimulate” (to hide under a false appearance, to disguise).

There are two words in the Greek that sound very much alike; in fact they may even be from the same root word.. The words (using our alphabet) are chrestotes and christos. We are familiar with the latter (Christ, Christian), but are generally unfamiliar with the former, in English.

Both words are related through a word (chraomai) that means “to use,” or sometimes “to lend.” From this relationship, though, the words seem to diverge. The christos is the anointed one. To be chrestotes is to be kind, or more commonly to be appropriate. It is similar to the word “meet” used in the King James Version, when woman is called a helper meet (appropriate) for man. These meanings seem so different that it is hard to picture them as being related. Indeed, we may ask how they are related, and thereby learn a lesson about Jesus as the Christ.

How does a word meaning to use or lend become the anointed or chosen one. Some scholars speculate it comes through the idea of contact. The Christ is the one who has received an anointment (also called chrism, from the same root). Anointing was a practice, commonly used to designate a prophet/priest/king, of pouring olive oil on the selected person’s head. Thus the idea of anointing is related to the idea of use or loan, because it was a lending of oil for the use of designating a person for a purpose. Jesus is designated as prophet, high priest, and king, and so deserving of the title Christ.

The other word, chrestotes, takes a slightly different path It is often translated as goodness or kindness. It derives from the concept of being appropriate for a given use. Thus to be good or kind is to do that which is appropriate to the need of the recipient. If a person needs money, kindness is giving him money; if he needs transportation it is not kindness to give him food. James says that it is not appropriate (kind) to give a verbal greeting to someone who needs clothing or food. (Jas 2:14-17) It is easy to see how kindness relates to usefulness, which directly descends from chraomai.

Can every christos be described as chrestotes? Can we find a direct correlation between these words? Probably not, on the theoretical level in which linguists seem to reside. In one man, however, we do find a very practical correlation. In Jesus the messiah meets with kindness, the Christ with appropriateness. We have a need; it is called forgiveness. Sin is a poverty of spirit similar to the poverties described by James. The problem is that sin requires forgiveness, but justice requires punishment. None of us can pay the price so that we ourselves, much less others, can be forgiven. But Jesus did. He met our need, and that is the definition of kindness. He was the help meet for us. And in that way two related words that took divergent linguistic paths come back together. Just for us; just because.