Until the Last Lamb is Free – Br. Keith Nelson

Isaiah 40:1-11
Matthew 18:12-14

If you’ve ever gone astray –

If by choice or by chance, you have found yourself separated – from God; from belonging; from the integrity, the dignity, or the honesty that once anchored you;

If you have found yourself in a place bereft of the guidance, the reassurance, or the forgiveness you so desperately needed;

Or from the touch or the glance or the words that would weave you once again into the fabric of connection, relationship, and love…

If yes, the question Jesus poses in tonight’s gospel is meant for you.

Does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

What do you think? Jesus asks.

What does your reason tell you? What does your conscience know to be right? What does your heart whisper into the dark?

Of course he does. The shepherd goes in search of the one who needs him.

It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Throughout 2020, I had the opportunity to pray my way through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola with a spiritual director. These Exercises clarify a person’s desire for spiritual freedom, and make extensive use of prayer with the imagination.

Because it radically changed my experience of what it means to be found by Jesus, I’d like to share a scene that unfolded in my own prayer as I engaged with this parable.

You might choose to close your eyes and receive these words as the testimony of a lost sheep.

I find myself in an arid, desert landscape, forgotten in a vast expanse of wilderness.           I am a young lamb, trapped inside a dense thicket of thorns. My face is free, but my entire body is immobilized. The more I struggle, the more caught I become, and the long, dark thorns tear through my fleece and the tender flesh beneath. I no longer have the voice to cry out and I am on the verge of despair. Vultures circle above me, waiting.

But then I see him, one like a Son of Man coming toward me. Is it a mirage? No, he is here now. I am afraid, but this man is my only hope.

I summon one long, feeble cry that is louder and stronger than I thought possible: it echoes from the cliffs, and in each echo a layer of my sorrow, my regret, my shame, my self-blame for this miserable situation.

The man bends down low. He must get on his hands and knees to reach me. He himself wears a crown of thorns, and his face is marked with streaks of dark blood like tears. He bears this crown with unfathomable grace. He gazes into my eyes and sees me: my fear, my despair. Our foreheads touch, and he whispers: “This isn’t your fault.”

And then; he plunges his strong arms into the heart of the thorn bush and wrenches it open. The thorns that hemmed me in on every side are now an open place, though they gouge the man’s own flesh. With one arm he holds the bush open and with the other he grasps me and lifts me free.

 I breathe. I live. This is mercy.

The man hoists me onto his shoulders. From this vantage point, I now see in all directions: bush after thorn bush all the way to the horizon.

Each bush contains a lamb like me, captive and struggling for life.

In a voice clear and resolute, the Son of Man says,

“I will not rest until the last lamb is free.”

“I will not rest until the last lamb is free.”

Jesus said, It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

The Orthodox archbishop Kallistos Ware, who died in August, often returned in his pastoral teaching to a fundamental question and aspiration: “Dare we hope for the salvation of all?”[i] By this, he meant not simply all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord but all – all who have been, and are, and shall be. All who, at the hidden core of their being, long for “the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

What do you think? Jesus asks. What does the voice of this Shepherd whisper within you?

Though the Truth is God’s alone, the question is meant for each of us. Dare we hope for the salvation of all?

In Advent, we embrace the mystery of God’s plan of salvation. Wrapped in that mystery, we wait. With God’s own humility, we watch. God’s response grows in the deep womb of time, until Christ is all in all.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom.”

We wait to discover just what that means – and we dare to hope for all.

Lectionary Year and Proper: Year A, Second Week of Advent

[i] https://www.clarion-journal.com/files/dare-we-hope-for-the-salvation-of-all-1.pdf


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  1. Jeff Lowry on December 13, 2023 at 10:04

    Thank you, Br. Keith for sharing this meditation and a little of who you are coming to be. Hope is a wonderful unofficial sacrament. Although I remain Protestant in my core beliefs I have always treasured Abp. Ware’s The Orthodox Wzy.

  2. Julianne Lindemann on December 13, 2023 at 07:45

    Dear Br. Keith,
    Your vision is so powerful. Thank you for sharing it. As a rescued lamb myself it brought tears to my eyes. Jesus saves every lamb who cries out for salvation. Amen.

  3. Tudy Hill on December 13, 2023 at 07:25

    The power of Spiritual Exercises is evident in such a ‘simple’ explanation of this parable. Thank you.

  4. Jeffrey McNary on December 13, 2023 at 06:50


  5. Marya n Davis on December 11, 2022 at 07:49

    This is beautiful Br. Keith!

    Every word embraces Jesus all -encompassing love for all creation!
    “Everything belongs” as Richard Rhor once wrote.
    Every lost lamb deserves to be found and healed!
    Hearts will be opened and every prayer shall be heard!
    Jesus, Forgive us when we fall, restore us to a newness of spirit and walk with us as we get again await your coming into our lives this Christmas.

    Advent Blessings,

    • Maryan Davis on December 13, 2023 at 19:35


      Dearest Brother Keith,

      I don’t remember reading this meditation previously but it is so beautiful.
      My hope is that all God’s created order will someday be free to breathe in the breath of a loving, living God.
      Always remember your time at Church of the Woods. You certainly were and inspiration to Us all!

      Blessings on your Ordination to The Priesthood! Wish so much I could be there but I can no longer drive in the dark to get home.

      Prayerfully and with love,

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