17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
There is a school of thought that says that the Gospels were all intended as catechetical documents, words of instruction for the Christians to put into practice in their lives. I am not sure that entirely exhausts the reasons for their writing, but I am sure that they function very well in this role.
In the late 4th century this passage seems to have gripped an entire generation of Christians. They were asking this very question of the rich young man: What must I do to inherit eternal life. What especially grabbed them was Jesus’ words at the end. It says Jesus loved the young man. He told him to do the one thing he lacked, sell his possessions, give to the poor, and store up a treasure in heaven. Then he will be a disciple who follows Jesus.
In 394 AD, a super-wealthy man by the name of Paulinus was so struck by these words that he did it. Paulinus had wealth on the scale of an Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos today. He set aside his opulent palaces, his rich clothing, his fine food, and even his daily bath. He lived as if he were poor. He gave away most of his money and the remainder he spent on the poor, building huge storehouses for grain and other foodstuffs. Every day he hosted a meal for the hungry people of his part of the world. He sat down and he ate with them. Within the stratified society of Rome at the time, this was amazing.
One day, Paulinus thought of a new way to help the poor find the shrine and place where they could get a meal. He took some of the money and built a tower, had a bell cast, and mounted it on that tower. He rang it every day to guide people to his table. Paulinus was so popular and well known that others started imitating that idea. It is probably why many churches have a bell in a tower attached to their buildings today. Jesus’ words have power today. He speaks of wealth. It can be a terrible idol which comes between us and God. Or it can be a blessed tool which God gives us to live out our callings as his people in this place today. What does he call you to do today that reflects your treasure in heaven?