What do you want to be remembered for?
Not long ago, I was teaching a theology class to students who are close to graduating from college. During the class, I showed a brief video that interviewed 70 people from age 5 up to age 75 and asked them what they wanted to be remembered for. Their answers were all over the map.
Some people expressed a desire to be remembered for being famous. Some said they wanted to be remembered as good parents. Several expressed a desire to make the world a better place in some meaningful way. One person, a retired math teacher, said something a little more specific than many of the others who were interviewed.
When he was asked the question, “What do you want to be remembered for?”, he commented that if all the students he taught during his career were brought together, there would be enough people to fill Madison Square Garden. Then he commented something to the effect that he considered that his greatest legacy.
It’s no secret that I value learning. I also value teaching, and I sincerely appreciate every teacher who has taken the time to educate and influence me in healthy ways, but there was something about that retired math teacher’s assessment of his life that made me feel a little sad. His answer troubled me because it was primarily focused on earthly metrics and measurements. He gave his answer without an eye toward eternity, and the tone with which he gave his answer sounded conceited and prideful.
During the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, the gospels reveal that some of the most conceited and prideful people of the era were people who had the responsibility to teach others. Even sadder was the fact that many of these teachers were men who had the role to communicate the Scriptures. Unfortunately, even though they knew the details of Scripture rather well and could quote large portions of God’s Word from memory, their hearts were far from the Lord. It appears that they were more motivated by the praise they received from men than the glory they had the opportunity to give to God.
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:1-5)
As the ministry of Jesus continued to gain notoriety, and as word of His teaching, miracles, acts of healing, ability to exorcise demons, and power to raise the dead started to spread, the religious leaders of the day felt compelled to investigate what He was up to, so they came from Jerusalem to take a look for themselves. In addition to observing Jesus, they also made a point to assess His disciples.
Scripture tells us that one of the things that stood out to them right away was the fact that Christ’s disciples didn’t follow some of the ritual cleansing requirements that the Pharisees followed. At the time, the religious leaders and other devout Jews made a point to carry out a hand cleansing ritual before they ate. Exodus 30:17-21 speaks of the priests washing their hands and feet before performing their sacred tasks, so eventually, even though this wasn’t something required in a general sense, this priestly requirement was reinterpreted to apply to everyone in a new manner. The idea that was being conveyed was that this hand washing ceremony would cleanse you in case you may have unintentionally had contact with anything in the marketplace or elsewhere that might be considered unclean.
Generally speaking, people weren’t required by God’s Word to do this, but the Pharisees felt otherwise. We’re told that they also had other traditions that they expected people to follow if they were to be considered spiritually mature and devout. So when they saw Christ’s disciples eating with unwashed hands, they questioned them in a critical and judgmental way and they brought the matter to Jesus.
One of my favorite things to observe in the gospels is the way in which Jesus spoke to different people. When He spoke to those who were feeling crushed by their burdens, lost in sin, and humbled by their circumstances, Jesus spoke in hopeful, compassionate, and uplifting terms. But when He spoke to the self-righteous, proud, arrogant people of influence who considered themselves better than others, Jesus spoke in a confrontational way. To those who needed to be lifted up, He lifted them. To those who needed to be knocked down a peg, He confronted them.
And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8)
The Pharisees were not used to being confronted like this. Most of the places they went, they were honored. Even in this situation, they were treating Jesus and His disciples as if they needed their stamp of approval to carry out their ministry. But Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t interested in their approval. In fact, they needed His approval, but He certainly didn’t approve of their arrogance and smug demeanor.
Summarizing words prophesied in Isaiah 29, Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites. They were people who made a show of their supposed faith, but had hearts that were quite distant from God. They kept up a good public appearance, but their motives were evil. Instead of leading people toward a closer walk with God, they taught their own, unbiblical doctrines, that were really about keeping score by human standards and not about submitting control of their lives to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13)
Jesus went on to give them more specifics about ways in which He observed them forsaking the actual commands of God so they could honor the traditions of men. One of the biggest examples was their failure to honor their fathers and mothers.
Honoring our parents is something that we’re all still called to do, and part of the reason the Lord specifically instructs us to do so is because, naturally speaking, that can be challenging. Sometimes it’s challenging because our parents may not share our faith, and as a result they may make life choices that don’t fit with the way we live. It can also be challenging to honor your parents when you’re trying to establish your independence as a young adult or a newly married couple. Likewise, it can also be a challenge to honor your parents if they genuinely treated you poorly, which unfortunately happens more often than I wish it did.
I remember really struggling with this concept, particularly during my late teens and the early years of my adulthood. I love my parents. My mother passed away almost six years ago, and my father is healthy and doing well. They have both been a blessing to me, but there are some areas of life that I had major differences and disagreements with them over. Areas that had a significant impact on my life. Areas that we never fully agreed on. But to that all I can say is “so what?”
The Lord’s command for me to honor my parents has nothing to do with what they did or didn’t do, what I agreed with or what I disagreed with. It has more to do with my obedience to Him and the lessons that He’s been teaching me throughout the course of my life to be content in all circumstances as I in His sovereign and providential guidance.
So when Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their failure to honor their parents, He wasn’t interested in their excuses or any of the reasons they could give Him for not keeping one of the most basic and obvious commands in all of Scripture. He didn’t approve of their desire to designate financial provisions that they should have used to provide care for their parents in their older years as “Corban” so they could receive the praise of their friends for devoting their finances to seemingly spiritual causes.
Exodus 20:12 literally tells us that we will live longer if we honor our parents. That is absolutely true in very obvious ways, including the fact that parents, even unbelieving parents, can offer us wisdom that might save us from making some of the life-altering errors they made during their younger years.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
The greater point Jesus was trying to make in this moment was that our hearts should be devoted to the Lord, not distant from Him. We’re called to genuinely trust Him in all circumstances and live to give Him praise and glory, not seek the glory and praise of this world for ourselves.
So, what do you want to be remembered for? Here’s what I have learned about human nature…
We want credit for what we do.
We want to be praised.
We want to be able to trust the efforts of our own hands.
That’s what the retired math teacher I mentioned earlier seemed to be banking on. That’s also what the Pharisees were counting on as they lived their lives. But God is not honored by our self-righteousness. He is honored, however, when we humbly trust in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who delights to give us the gift of His righteousness. He’s honored when we trust Him for the work He has done on our behalf. He’s honored when we give Him credit, glory, and praise.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18)
© John Stange, 2024