Cataract Surgery

Emilie Bouvier, "Springing"(Cowling Arboretum; Northfield, Minn.)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Dear Working Preacher,

You know how some images just stick with you? Here’s one description of the church that’s stuck with me for nearly two decades: the church is the place where we perform weekly cataract surgery. That’s right, cataract surgery. Which is also, I think, a pretty good image for what happens to the tenth leper in Luke’s gospel. Let me explain.

Whatever else this story may be about, I definitely think it’s about sight. Ten men are healed, but only one sees what has happened. And that seeing makes all the difference. Not only does the tenth leper change direction, moving toward Jesus rather than the Temple priests, but he also has the opportunity to worship God with thanksgiving and hear the pronouncement of blessing from Jesus: “Go, your faith has restored you, made you whole, and saved you” (all legitimate translations of the Greek sesoken). All this because he recognizes, perceives, sees what has happened; he has not only been healed by leprosy, but has been given new sight.

Most of us grew up hearing the adage, “Seeing is believing.” We were instructed not to be gullible, to want proof, to demand evidence of what people were telling us. But by now most of us are old enough to know that, more often than not, the opposite is equally true. That is, what we believe deeply shapes what we perceive, and what we expect often determines what we encounter. Is the glass half full or half empty? Is the stranger ahead a potential friend or potential enemy? Is the challenge in front of us an adversity or opportunity? How we answer these and so many similar questions regularly determines our experience of the world. In other words, believing is seeing.

For this reason, I think one of the primary functions of Sunday worship is to clarify our vision. To remind us that this is God’s beloved world. To point us to God’s ongoing activity in the world. To announce to us that God loves us and that God loves our neighbor just as much. To proclaim to us again and again that in Jesus Christ we see God’s loving and parental heart laid bare. Knowing these things — believing these things — makes an incredible difference to how we view our life, our neighbors, our work, and our world. Our Christian faith helps us see the world differently.

And that’s where the cataract surgery comes in. Anyone actively engaged in this world can’t help but have his or her vision made a little foggy. There is so much pain, and doubt, and hardship that it can be difficult to sustain faith in a loving God. Further, the challenges that confront us in loving our neighbor and striving for a more just and peaceful world are daunting. So even though our faith might be sure and confident on Sunday morning, by the following Friday — and, goodness, but some weeks it’s by Monday afternoon! — we need to have our faith rekindled and thereby have our vision clarified. The readings and sermon, the prayers and songs that constitute our weekly worship serve to remove the film that clouds our ability to see God at work in the world and to recognize God’s face shine through to us in the need of our neighbor. So week in and week out, we come to church to have our vision clarified, our eyesight restored, so that we might return to the world looking for God out ahead of us, knowing that by the end of the week our vision will once again be cloudy and that cataract surgery awaits us again on Sunday.

Worship, from this point of view, is the opportunity for us to come to church that we might perceive, like the tenth leper in this week’s gospel, how God has restored us and, seeing, give God thanks and praise. Which is why the role you play is so important, Working Preacher, as you tirelessly proclaim God’s mercy and grace and thereby restore not just our faith but also our vision. More than that, you encourage us to go back into the world, instructing us to look for God, encouraging us to throw ourselves into the challenges there, and reminding us to come back on Sunday that our faith and vision might be renewed once again.

What you do matters so much, Working Preacher, as again and again you help us lepers see God at work in our lives and our world. Thank you. Even more, thank God for you.

Yours in Christ,

PS: If you’re preaching on 2nd Timothy this week, check out Deanna Thompson’s piece that views this passage through her experience as a cancer survivor.