"His name was Homer Smith. He was twenty-four. He stood six foot two and his skin was a deep, warm black. He had large, strong features and widely spaced eyes...He lived his life one day at a time. There was laughter in him..."So begins Lilies of the Field, written by William E. Barrett in 1962.
Homer finds himself driving through the West, after being discharged from the Army, and stopping at a small farm populated by a small group of German nuns. Although the nuns don't speak much English, they communicate enough to ask Homer to repair their roof. Homer does the work on the roof and decides that he wishes to be paid for his work, but has difficulty communicating with the nuns. Frustrated, he spies a Bible on the table.
"...There was a book on the table, a big book, and it talked to him. The Bible! He crossed the room and looked at it, turning a few pages. The type was outlandish and did not look like words, but no other book was organized like this one.Lilies of the Field is a short book about a man who finds, to his surprise, that he is deeply satisfied by work and by service, and struggles against the idea that he might somehow be God's answer to the nuns prayers. I enjoyed the humor of this passage, in which the German nun and the American black man communicate by swapping Bible verses.
'You wait right here,' he said. 'I'm coming back.'
He was afraid that she would not wait, that she would close the door on him; but she waited. He brought his own Bible from the station wagon. It was the one he got in the Army. He had a passage in his mind and he turned pages rapidly. He tore half of the wrapping from a package of cigarettes and wrote on the white side, Luke 10:7.
Mother Maria Marthe rose heavily and crossed the room to her big Bible. She turned the pages and he knew what she was reading when the page turning stopped:
'And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire.'
It wasn't exactly what he wanted to say, but he hoped that she would get the idea about the laborer. She walked slowly back and reached for his pencil. In bold letters, she wrote, Proverbs 1:14.
He spun his own pages and read: 'Cast in thy lot among us: let us all have one purse.'
'No,' he said. 'I am a poor man. I have to work for wages.'
Mother Maria Marthe did not change expression. Without returning to consult her Bible, she wrote again on the fragment of cigarette package, Matthew 6:28, 29.
'And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.'
'And yet I say unto you. That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.'
Homer read, baffled. This old woman had answers out of the Book, which surprised him. They did not come to grips with the situation, they did not deal directly with his right to be paid, but they slowed down a man in argument. Before he went into the Army, he had had a head filled with Bible words and figures but they would not march straight for him now as they did once. It wouldn't make any difference. This old woman wasn't going to pay him. She'd never had any intention of paying him...."