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You may have heard the famous allegory of the three stonecutters. A passerby asks them what they are doing. The first one, with a grumpy and tired look, answers, “I quarry and cut stones.” The second, who does the same work but with a little more spirit, explains, “I’m working to earn a living.” The third one cuts his stone with the same tools and the same techniques as his colleagues, but he’s radiant and answers with a bright smile, “I’m building a cathedral!”
If you have a job that you’re not very fond of, you may recognize yourself in one of the first two stonecutters. In that case, a character from the Bible—Moses—may cheer you up.
From Pharaoh’s court to the desert
We know the story of Moses, the great Old Testament prophet. However, it might seem to us—wrongly—that his experience is so distant from ours that we cannot draw lessons from it for our own life. Let’s go back to the main stages of his life …
Following his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter when his Hebrew mother had to hide him to keep him alive (Exodus, chapters 1 and 2), Moses spent his childhood at Pharaoh’s court. He received an excellent education. He studied mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and hieroglyphics. At court, he was a “personality” whose destiny in the Egyptian ruling class seemed to be all mapped out.
However, he couldn’t forget his origins, nor the miserable condition of his people, whom the Egyptians held in slavery. One day, he came across an Egyptian foreman beating a Hebrew slave. He killed him and hid his body in the sand. (Exodus 2:11-12)
When he realized that his murderous act had been discovered, he fled to the desert. For the next forty years, he was a herdsman. His marriage to Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian, sealed his destiny as a shepherd.
He went from luxury and fame to poverty and humiliation. At the time, shepherds were considered an abomination in the eyes of the Egyptians, whose culture Moses had inherited. What he had learned in childhood to hate and despise the most was now his daily occupation, with no prospect of a “career change.”
Let’s think back to our second stonemason, the one who carries out his activity to earn a living. Unfortunately, this motivation alone is not enough to fulfill the deepest desires of our heart.
If we’re in that situation, our heart tends to close up, to harden and to experience all sorts of feelings that take us away from God and from inner peace: bitterness, resentment, even anger against God.
Opening our hearts
If we open our hearts to God trustingly, accepting that every experience can be an opportunity to advance on our specific path of holiness, then God can use a simple job to continue to educate and shape us.
This is what he did with Moses, using his social downfall to transform his heart and prepare him to know God in a very special way. God sent Moses to the desert to teach him what Pharaoh’s palace could never teach him.
Moreover, his education in the court would serve him well many years later. At the age of 80, Moses was sent by God to interact with Pharaoh to obtain the liberation of the Hebrew people and their exit from Egypt.
He thus fulfilled his call as “the shepherd of Israel.” All his experiences at court and as a shepherd contributed indeed to the outcome of his vocation!
What really matters to God
We may be Christians, converted to the love of Christ, but we often continue to judge according to the deceptive appearances of this world. If we hear voices of the world disparaging jobs in the service sector or other menial occupations, for example, we look down on them, too.
What gets God’s attention, however, is a world away from our human judgment. It’s our motivations and the way we love in our daily lives that matters to Him, rather than human prestige.
Christ, at the Last Supper, showed us the love we must have for one another. By washing the feet of his disciples, which was a gesture performed by servants and slaves, he gave us an example of humble love, while prefiguring his death on the Cross. (Jn 13:12-15)
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-11), offers us a dense theological lesson inviting us to imitate Christ:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Let us ask God, then, to enlighten the eyes of our hearts that we may see as He sees. May we see our job, however unglamorous, as an opportunity to serve and love God and our neighbor. May we spread a fragrance, not of bitterness and despair, but of holiness and hope. This is how we will be truly recognized as Christians.