Wolves run in packs. Sheep live in flocks. Cattle thrive in herds. Bees and ants are almost without individual identity. Apart from their hives, swarms, and hills their life is meaningless or threatened, because in every way their individual life is one with their social life. What about man? Is man a social creature? Is being gregarious a part of his internal nature or is it merely something that society forces upon a solitary individual?
Man is different than animals. He has personal volition; he can choose to conform or be different than other individuals. Societies can choose to be different than other societies. Ancient cultures, for example, were tribal, communal, gregarious. Modern ones chose not to be. Over the last hundred years or so urban life has increasingly caused individuality to tower over joint participation in social life.
Today, in the midst of increased alienation, many are looking for a shared life. They are discontent with individual attainment and limited family life. They want community, because man was never meant to be alone. Yet even community can end in disaster, if it is plagued with the same greed and selfishness that hinders individual lives all over the earth. But there is an answer of hope. It lies in the same life that caused community to form in Jerusalem.
It happened around 30 CE. The streets were packed with people who had come for Shavuot — the late spring festival celebrating the wheat harvest and the giving of the Law to Moses. The Temple was a busy place. The streets were full of Jews from around the world celebrating their national identity as Jews, though under the political overlordship of the Roman Empire. They had been gathering like this for the past forty years.
In the midst of the million or so worshipers and busy merchants a spiritual awakening occurred. Many thousands from various lands determined that they would sell all their land and houses and buy property in Jerusalem. Others who owned nothing were welcomed into one of these homes. All shared what they had in common, seeing the needs of the poor among them. At the end of the festival, when the great multitude of visitors from around the world returned to their homes, the people of Jerusalem became aware that this year there were many thousands of worshipers not heading back to their homelands. What also caught the eye of the populace of this ancient city was the love and zeal of this early community. Their constant devotion to the prayers, their care for one another, the ideals they held in common, and especially their rich, full social life challenged the coldness of many in Jerusalem.
Rumors spread: a beggar, lame from birth, had been healed at the Temple; sicknesses and diseases were leaving people; an insincere couple had suddenly died by the hand of God; the number of new members in the group was steadily increasing, and Jerusalem was in an uproar.
But the homes of this new community abounded with peace and care. Widows who had only received sporadic and impersonal help from religious do-gooders in the past now found themselves cared for by loving families. Those with deep needs found comfort and healing. Those who had been poor found themselves in the homes of their rich brethren, one of the family. It was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy:
God has made a home for the lonely; only the rebellious dwell in a parched land. (Psalm 68:6)
Eventually this life of warmth and care spread among other Jewish cities and throughout the Roman Empire. This is a fact of history. There has never been a more vibrant example of community life in any generation. Hundreds of thousands were involved in these communities of care. But what produced these most successful communities in history? Was it their well-thought-out organization? How they were laid out? Certain prerequisites each individual agreed to beforehand? No, none of that.
The cause for their success was an amazing phenomenon — faith! So lacking in today's society, faith is the only thing that makes successful community. The Jews in Jerusalem who began community understood a certain mystery. They knew the man who would fulfill the words of their ancient prophets. Their teacher, Y'shua, had suffered a bloody execution, as the atonement for their sin and guilt.
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed ... He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? But the Sovereign was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Sovereign will prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:3-5,7,8,10)
For dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evildoers has encompassed Me; they pierced My hand and My feet. I can count all My bones. They look, they stare at Me; they divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:16-18)
And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. (Zechariah 12:10)
He had been raised from the dead and was proven to be the Messiah. Those who proclaimed this were sincere and fervent. Many who heard their message were pierced. Their consciences agreed with the need for a sacrifice.
They began to love and care for one another in response to this message. Independence no longer ruled their lives. They were determined to no longer live for themselves but for Him. As long as faith filled their hearts, they would remain fervent in their love.