Through two millennia, many Christians have overlooked or forgotten one of Scripture's central messages: God calls those who are willing to grow into perfection, not those who have already achieved perfection.

Growth in faith and commitment to God's will is one of the Bible's most powerful themes, a theme clearly stated in Sunday's first reading (I Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13) when Yahweh reminds Samuel, "Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance, but Yahweh looks into the heart."

Samuel traveled to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse's sons the next king of Israel. Because Israel had only one king before (Saul), Samuel naturally is looking for someone with the same characteristics that had set Saul apart to lead Yahweh's people. Since one of the reasons Samuel originally anointed Saul was because physically he "stood head and shoulders above everyone else," he now presumes Eliab (of "lofty stature") is the son Yahweh has chosen to replace Saul.

Choosing David

But to everyone's amazement, the puny kid whom Jesse had sent to keep an eye on the family's sheep during the anointing ceremony is the son Yahweh has designated to be the next king. The Sacred Writer assures us that David will grow into a good king because "from that day on, the spirit of Yahweh rushed upon him." Yahweh not only sees who David is, but also sees who David can become.

Belief in an ability to grow into the person God expects us to become also seems to be the reason for a major difference between John's theology and that of the Synoptics. For the latter, Jesus works miracles only for those who have faith in Him before the miracle takes place. For John, faith comes to the recipient after the miracle happens. John's theology is classically presented in the Gospel (Jn 9:1-41).

Notice, for instance, that at no point does the blind man ask to be cured. Jesus takes the initiative. First, He makes mud out of His spit, smears it on the beggar's eyes, then tells him to wash it off. Even when he discovers he can see, he doesn't understand the meaning of the event.

The blind man's faith develops gradually. When bystanders and the man's neighbors initially ask what happened, he replies, "The man they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes." Then after the Pharisees demand an explanation and ask his opinion of Jesus, he progresses further in his belief: "He is a prophet." Finally, he meets Jesus eye to eye and professes complete faith in Him as God, even bowing down "to worship Him." An unbelieving blind beggar is chosen by Jesus to evolve into a person of faith.

Growing faith

John uses this narrative to teach that faith not only helps us interpret events as they happen, but also gives meaning to what has already taken place. Faith grows as we grow.

But John also points out the cost of such growth: rejection by those who want us to remain just as we are. The Pharisees throw the newly sighted man out bodily, and not even his parents will defend him. On some levels, he was better off blind.

(The analogy of faith and sight can't be ignored. Notice how John uses it to perfection at the end of the passage when he has Jesus confront the Pharisees about their refusal to believe.)

Lack of faith-growth prompts Paul to write the second reading (Eph 5:8-14). Though his readers have crossed from darkness to light, they seem to be stuck in one place. They're not advancing toward the light; they're not growing in "goodness, justice and truth."

Perhaps, like all Christians, the Ephesian community hesitates to go further down the road of faith because it also fears rejection. This hesitation leads Paul to remind them of a primitive Christian hymn: "Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." Jesus is the one person guaranteed. No to reject us because we change.

We don't have to possess anything special or be anyone special to be chosen by God for faith. Once God grants us faith, life becomes a constant series of awakenings. But if we don't personally grow because of those awakenings, we'd be better off staying in darkness.