Here are a few more heuristic exercises for homily composition to complement the ones I posted a few days ago. . .
Exercise One: Core vs. Core
Take what you think is the core statement/line/teaching of each reading and type them out. How are they connected? How do they differ? Do they say the same thing in different ways? Does one text set up a question that another text answers? A problem that another text solves? This works well because the lectionary readings are chosen to be thematically complementary. For example, the readings for yesterday's Mass:
1 Sam: “Why has the LORD permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines?”
Mark: “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
Connected: Preach on how sickness and illness can be understood as a kind of defeat. Where then is our victory?
Differ: God permits defeat yet He also makes clean. What is required of us to move from defeat to cleanliness?
Q&A: Why does the Lord permit defeat? Because He can make us clean. Are we being shown the need for proper humility?
Problem/Solution: What does it mean to say that the Lord permits us to be defeated? Our ultimate defeat is faithfulness and God will not force us to be faithful.
Notice that in each of these I've assumed that the texts from both 1 Sam and Mark address our contemporary concerns about disease, failure, health, and success.
Exercise Two: Random vs. random
Now, be truly daring. Rather than choosing two statements/lines/teachings from the text, randomly select them and ask the same questions. For example:
1 Sam: “Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods?”
Mark: “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.”
Connected: Both seek out the power of God to accomplish nearly impossible tasks. How do the actors in each reading work with grace to achieve their ends?
Differ: 1 Sam is a despairing question asked before a final defeat. Mark comes after a victory over disease. What component of the faith is missing in the defeat that guarantees that the victory over illness will be preached?
Q&A: The question in 1 Sam is a faithless question, that is, a question that belies a lack of faith in God's power to bring victory. Mark answers the question by noting that the victory achieved by Christ is worthy of public notice. What exactly is this victory? Hint: it's not about physical healing!
Problem/Solution: 1 Sam sets up the problem of how we understand the power and purpose of “foreign gods,” or the power and reason for apparently random, capricious events. Do we give these gods of chance, destruction, etc. too much control over our faith when we despair of God's attention? Mark emphasizes the need for faith in achieving wellness, the need for trusting that all things work for the good that God has ordained will always be victorious.
Exercise: Word list
List the verbs in each reading. Pick out the ones that seem to be moving in the same direction, that is, that seem to be indicating a common action. Then, after considering the overall context of the readings, think about how these verbs help/hinder/expand/diminish the theme.
fetched. . .and so on. . .
dismissed. . .and so on. . .
From 1 Sam: gathered, camped, drew up, retired
From Mark: came, kneeling, touched, made clean
The verbs from 1 Sam indicate the action of the armies in readying themselves for battle.
The verbs from Mark indicate the action of both the leper and Christ.
What do the Israeli army and the leper have in common? What are they both searching for? How do they approach their respective goals? Compare the actions of the army and the leper: how are they different? Why does one fail and the other succeed? How do both events proclaim the gospel? What role does faith/surrender play in these events?
Any of these exercises can be combined with another to increase the chances of discovering an intriguing question or topic for a homily.