We all want to feel useful with our life. In some way almost every person seeks to be remembered. It has been said that a person dies twice. The day they breathe their last and the day someone speaks their name for the last time. That’s a sad statement but have you thought about people who have impacted history and we don’t know their names?
For example purposes let’s look at three figures in the Bible that had two things in common. All three made choices in their lives that have been remembered for generations, and all three are anonymous. We only know them by their circumstances.
- A poor but wise man.
Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man.
16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. 17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
I think we often miss the excitement of scripture in the way we read it. This man accomplished through wisdom what an entire town could not do through military might. Yet he was not thanked and his name forgotten. This man was written in history as anonymous. We don’t even know the town he lived in. It is not recorded how his wisdom saved the town. The only recognition is merely a pondered thought written in a book.
I have wondered about this man. Why was he poor? How old was he at the time? Was he physically disabled? We know so little of this man. A few things we can deduct about this anonymous man are it is possible this was a God-fearing man. (Proverbs 1:7 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.) He had the courage to take action against seemingly overwhelming odds. He probably was not popular. Nobody even thanked him for saving the town. Despite great life adversity this man showed concern for others.
2. The woman at the well
John 4:1-30 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
Initially my mind imagines an attractive, young woman. There are clues in this story that this woman had withdrawn from society. Maybe she isn’t popular.
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Now we see this is a “popular” lady with the fellows! The idea of youthfulness fades as we learn this woman has had five husbands. For all we know this woman had a face of a horse and the body of a hippo! It is easy to imagine an attractive woman speaking with Jesus but men who take another man’s wife really don’t focus on looks! Anyone who would take another person’s spouse is only interested in fulfilling their own selfish desires.
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
It is common that people will ask religious questions when they are seeking truth.
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
I love the wisdom of Jesus. He didn’t get into a religious debate but rather redirected the conversation to truth. Jesus wisdom was from his daily time spent with God. Those quiet times away from life’s struggles and worries. Jesus disciples understood this about him and that could be the reason they left him alone at the well.
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
This anonymous woman is remembered for her encounter with Jesus rather than her personal sins. Once again we see an entire village impacted by a King and a brave person. After all it takes courage to overcome past mistakes and tell other’s about Jesus. In this case the village was right in not giving thanks or credit to the woman but rather showed honor to the King of kings by coming out to see him. The best possible outcome to hope for when telling someone about Jesus is they choose to seek him.
3. A rich young ruler.
Matthew 19:16-22 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Again we see a religious question posed but this time Jesus answered in a way to cause the man to reflect on his own character.
21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Another anonymous person. Unlike the poor wise man this is a rich man with great influence. Some things we know about him is he was young. He lived a religious life. This was a man of wealth and means. Probably well respected in the community. Based on the culture of his time we can infer this was a highly educated man.
This man had a personal struggle in his life. In a face to face encounter with Jesus this man put material possession above a relationship with God. Instead of being remembered for overcoming great adversity he is remembered for walking away as a defeated man.
We have looked at three unique individuals that are not named. We only refer to them as what they did. One man who saved a town through wisdom. We call him the ‘poor wise man’. One woman who had a colorful history. We call her ‘the woman at the well’. One man who seemed to have it all. ‘We call him the rich young ruler’. In their day each of these people had a name that has been lost to history. They may be anonymous to us but not to God. Nobody is anonymous to God!
What will you do with your circumstances? Will you use the talents God gave you to help others as the poor wise man did? Are you fascinated by Jesus enough to tell others about Christ like the woman at the well? Will you allow position, power, or possessions prevent you from completely following God like the rich young ruler? Long after your name is forgotten, what legacy will your life leave for others?
Rev. Burt Schwab