One of my favorite movies is The Delta Force. American tourists are hijacked by Arab terrorists who hold the hostages in Beirut. Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris lead an elite team of U.S. Special Forces that rescue the endangered travelers.
At the beginning of the tragedy, the two Arab terrorists aboard the jetliner begin to separate the few Jewish tourists from the rest of the hostages. One of the most moving moments of the film is when Fr. William O’Malley, a priest from Chicago played by George Kennedy, gets up from his seat and walks into the First-Class compartment where the Jews are being held. Kennedy courageously walks into the compartment where he is disdainfully met by the leading terrorist.
The terrorist asks what his name is and Kennedy responds that his name is William O’Malley. Perplexed by the situation, the terrorist asks what the priest wants. He responds that since he is a Catholic priest and a follower of Jesus Christ, that he too is Jewish. “If you take one, you have to take us all,” answers the priest who willingly accompanies the Jewish hostages.
On this fourth Sunday of the Easter season, we consider Jesus as the Good Shepherd. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10: 10).
The main part of the Holy Land was a large central plateau about 35 miles long. The ground was for the most part rough and rocky. It was impossible for sheep just to stay in one area for grazing. Large areas for grazing simply did not exist. Every flock had to have a shepherd who led his flock every day to places where the sheep could eat.
The life of a shepherd was extremely difficult. A flock of sheep never grazed without his presence and therefore, the shepherd was on duty every day of the week. Since the sheep always had to travel in order to find grass to eat, they were never left alone. Sheep could get lost, or they could be attacked by wolves or stolen by robbers.
Sheep were seldom used for regular food by the people of the Holy Land; rather sheep were cultivated for the use of their wool. Thus, the shepherd was with his sheep for an exceptionally long time. He gave each one of them a name, and they all knew his voice. In fact, it is said that each shepherd had a peculiar way of speaking to the sheep that allowed them to know that he was their shepherd.
During the warm weather, it was common for the sheep to spend the night away from the village farm. The shepherd watched over them throughout the night. In these circumstances, the sheep stayed in open areas surrounded by a low rock wall. In these areas, the sheep entered and left through an open space which had no door or gate of any kind. During the night, the shepherd would sleep stretched out within the empty space so that no sheep could get out except by crossing over his body. At the same time, a wolf or a robber could not get in, except by crossing over his body as well. Here we can see a prime example of how the shepherd would give his life for his sheep. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10: 10).
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Easter Season is a continual celebration of the one central mystery of Christianity: that Jesus gave his life for us by dying on the Cross. He saved us from our sins. “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2: 24).
We all know that getting directions from someone when we are lost can be a frustrating experience. Perhaps you scramble for a piece of paper to scribble a few indications like “go right at the light and then take your first left.” Maybe the person who gives you directions is wrong, and instead of a right, you should have taken a left.
Sometimes you come across a kind person who says “Come, I will take you there.” In this case, the person is the way and you cannot go wrong.
Jesus tells us that he is the way. Jesus does not give us advice and directions; he takes us by the hand and leads us to eternal life in heaven. He does not tell us about the way, he is the way.
Christianity is essentially different from all other religions because the Christian does not merely follow a series of rules and regulations, nor does he submit himself to a guru’s indications of how to live certain austere principles.
Christianity is not about a what, but about a whom. Ultimately, Christianity is about relationship and of course, the greatest relationship of all. Christianity is about a relationship with the best friend anyone could ever have; i.e., Jesus Christ.
Married couples, boyfriends and girlfriends and even dear friends understand what a relationship is. True friendship is true personal love. True friendship is not based upon an arrangement of rules. Friendship goes much deeper than this. Friendship is a relationship.
Through the Easter mystery of Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ. This life of sanctifying grace launches us into an awesome bond with Jesus Christ.
Our relationship with Jesus is personal. He is real because he is alive. He is a living person that sees you, that hears you, that speaks with you and that walks with you. He is there to bless you and to strengthen you. He is with you to sustain you and to dry your tears. Jesus is always there because he has truly risen on Easter Sunday morning.
Our relationship with Jesus is real. Before his death on the cross, in the intimacy of the Upper Room where he imparted to his dear friends his last words before his Passion and Resurrection, he said: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14: 15). Love is not based upon empty words and wishful thinking; love is translated into action.
When Jesus speaks to us in the Gospels about humility, service, patience, chastity, honesty, apostolic zeal and the other gospel virtues, he calls us to put these virtues into practice within the circumstances of our daily lives. We show Jesus our true love by doing gospel deeds. Our relationship is so personal, that we become another Jesus. We talk like him, we think like him, we feel like him and we act like him. Authentic relationship automatically brings us to imitation.
Any true friendship needs to be nourished by relationship. When we spend a lot of time away from a friend, the friendship begins to die. The adage: “Out of sight, out of mind,” is absolutely true. In order to love, we need to spend time with the Beloved.
“Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest trust of our being” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 8)
Contemplative prayer, the attentive meditation of the Scriptures, the daily reception of the Eucharist and frequent Confession are the preferred moments of intimacy with the risen Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.