Sermon on the Mount,
An important apocalyptic Jewish movement in first century Palestine were the Essenes. Josephus describes them as "Contemptuous of wealth, they are communists to perfection, and none of them will be found to be better off than the rest: their rule is that novices admitted to the sect must surrender their property to the order, so that among them all each man's possessions go into the pool and as with brothers their entire property belongs to them all."
I believe that the followers of John and Jesus were also "communists to perfection" and that their way of life is the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount.
In Luke's gospel, when the crowds asked John, "What should we then do?" John answers,
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
In the book of Acts Luke describes the followers of Jesus:
"All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people."
John announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven and Jesus called it into being. The beatitudes tell us what sort of people came to hear him speak, or what they thought of themselves, a rainbow of concerns: Those who mourn, who are depressed, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who seek to resolve conflicts, who are persecuted for their good works. To all of these he promised the world to come. Utopia is yours, comfort is yours, the earth is yours, right will win, your helpfulness will be reciprocated, you will see God, you are a child of God, yours is the community of heaven, the earth is your inheritance -- utopia is yours.
Jesus was speaking to Jews, to people who took the Law and the Prophets seriously, and who hoped that the God who delivered the Israelites from Egypt would remember His contract with His people and liberate them again. Jesus' perspective on the law goes beyond written laws to call for a change of mind and a renewal of the social contract based on the golden rule. Your debts will be forgiven, you will no longer fear being brought to trial, you will be delivered from evil, because the Creator has a master plan.
More next week.