To appreciate Scripture correctly, it's always necessary to know what was happening in the community for which the author wrote.

No part of the Bible was composed in a vacuum. If one didn't know the history of the community, one couldn't write for that community.

According to scholars like Walter Bruggemann, only the Exodus influenced the earliest writings of the Hebrew Scriptures more than King David's reign.

Choice of sons

Among other things, the authors of Genesis make a big thing out of the fact that Isaac, Jacob and Judah were not their family's oldest sons. In each case, Yahweh goes against "common wisdom" and picks someone who doesn't fit the first-son category to receive the promises given to Abraham and Sarah.

Bruggemann is convinced this emphasis on Yahweh's habit of working through younger siblings springs from years of reflection on the event narrated in Sunday's first reading (I Samuel 16:1b,6-7,10-13a).

Yahweh tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse's sons as the next king. Except for the youngest, who is "tending the sheep," Jesse lines up his sons according to age in order to see which one Yahweh directs Samuel to anoint.

To Jesse's amazement, the last of the judges announces, "Yahweh has not chosen any one of these!" The reason: "Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance but Yahweh looks into the heart." Instead, David, the youngest, is anointed.

The basic belief of people of faith is that only faith enables us to cut through life's appearances to help us uncover the true heart God has embedded in all His creatures. That's why the biblical authors constantly return to themes of sight, and stress the contrast between light and darkness.

"You were once in darkness," Paul says in the second reading (Ephesians 5:8-14), "but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth."

Jesus' earliest followers constantly reflected on what their faith in His risen presence enabled them to see. Nothing could compare to the light that now illumined every aspect of their lives.

Gradual sight

St. John's long narrative in the Gospel about the man born blind revolves around the same concept (John 9:1-41). Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, who demand people have faith in Jesus before He can work miracles on their behalf, John tells us such faith comes only after the miracle.

Notice that the blind beggar never asks Jesus to give him sight. He's amazed when he washes the unwanted mud out of his eyes and can see. He never anticipated a miracle. And when his faith-sight comes, it arrives in stages.

The beggar begins by referring to Jesus as "the man," then advances to "He's a prophet." Only at the end of the narrative does he recognize divinity in the person who took away his blindness: "He worshiped Him."

John is convinced that Christians go through stages in their faith. Things become clearer as we go further along the faith road. Jesus has problems only with those who claim "We see!" but are actually blind.

There's nothing wrong with being on the road to sight, but there's a lot wrong with thinking we've already reached the end of that road.

Anyone with that mindset would never be able to understand why Samuel passed over the first-born and anointed David.