In today’s Gospel today Our Lord reminds us that he doesn’t want to leave even one soul unturned. He encourages us to go out from the ninety-nine sheep even to find one lost sheep. When someone is conducting a search, as the expression goes, they leave no stone unturned. Our Lord is telling us that we must leave no soul unturned. The word “conversion” literally means, in the original Latin, “turning around.” Every soul that turns back to him causes a celebration in Heaven, because, as Our Lord describes it in the words of the Prodigal Son’s father: “your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
The First Reading reminds us that this is so important to God that he personally takes charge of leaving no soul unturned. The first part of the prophecy of Ezekiel laments that the shepherds of Israel (the kings), had watched over their stomachs more than their flocks, so the Lord takes charge. A little later in this prophecy the Lord says, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.” When we put this into New Testament language, we are talking about a Father and Son operation. The Holy Spirit is involved too, inspiring Ezekiel, and pouring God’s love into our hearts, as the Second Reading reminds us today.
The Second Reading also reminds us that there is only one motivation for being our shepherd and laying down his life for us: love. The hired hands run for it when the wolves start showing up. Vigilantes leave no stone unturned and take personal charge of justice when they search for a criminal, but Our Lord does something incredible with the “criminal” instead: he dies for that criminal to be reconciled to God. He takes the penalty, the scourges, the death sentence. If the sheep is far away from the flock, Jesus throws himself right into the jaws of the wolf so that someday that sheep may live. If a soul doesn’t turn after that, nothing will turn it.
The Song of Songs reminds us, “love is strong as death, … Its flashes are flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned” (Songs 8:6-7). You cannot put a price on love—no paycheck, no bounty. Knowing this makes the words of the Psalm our own: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Even if we have a part in helping lead sheep back to the head Shepherd, we remain sheep and he remains our Shepherd. That should fill us with gratitude and trust in him. Even when we walk in the dark valley filled with fear of evil. We must lead others to him, and let ourselves be led by him in everything we do. Conversion is a life-long process for us all. Jesus doesn’t just come running by to give us directions when we’re lost and then speed off to the next lost sheep. He gathers us together and leads us to rest and greener pastures and through those dark valleys, so we have to let him continue to turn our souls toward him. Let’s help him leave no soul unturned.
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11–16; Psalm 23:1–6; Second Reading Romans 5:5b–11; Luke 15:3–7. See also 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.