The Lilies of the Field

by William E. Barrett
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Last Updated on September 27, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340

The Lilies of the Field takes its title from the Bible. This novella is the story of Homer Smith's experience helping a group of Catholic sisters build their mission chapel. It is set in the western United States after World War II. As Homer helps the sisters, shares their purposefully simple way of life, and takes initiative and pride in the work, he also goes through a spiritual awakening. His Baptist faith coexists with their Catholicism. Because Smith is Black and the sisters are white Germans and Hungarians, he initially suspects they will have the same racial prejudice as many white Americans, but this turns out not to be the case.

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When Homer first agrees to work, he thinks it will be a paid job fixing the roof. (Later, he realizes just how limited their funds are.) When he asks the Mother, Maria Marthe, about his wages, they get into a Bible quotation contest. She refers him to Matthew 6:28–29.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these..

As Homer finds himself agreeing to work for room and board only, the sisters are grateful that God sent him to them, which he doubts.

He didn’t send a Black Baptist to a Catholic nun. He didn’t do anything like that.

Staying longer at the mission, he gets to know some local people. A Mexican American man named Juan joins the project after convincing Homer he does need help. Homer gradually becomes his friend.

A man couldn't stay hostile to another man who helped him work and invited him to dinner.

Homer has left a saintly impact, moving the people around him to the point where they question his humanity. After Homer leaves, a legend grows about his superhuman abilities.

Juan Archuleta swore that he had laid bricks beside Homer Smith and that often the bricks flew into place with no one touching them.

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