I have learned a lot from bricklayers about the meaning of work! And continue to learn … even about being a follower of Christ.

Most of what I have learned is rooted in an oft-told story of three bricklayers.

A traveler spotted three men laying bricks. He asked the first man what he was doing.  “I’m laying bricks.” The second man said he was “putting up a wall.” The third man was “building a cathedral.”

Let’s explore!

Attitudes toward our work

I’m laying bricks. The first worker basically sees his work as a means to an end. He is simply doing what he has to do to keep a roof over his head, food on the table, and hopefully have something left over for luxuries. The work has no other meaning for him.

The second worker sees some value in the work itself. It is part of a bigger picture. Yes, it helps him have the necessities of life. But he also sees the work itself as having its own meaning in his life. Each brick is part of a wall. That wall can have many meanings… the shell of his house, a barrier to keep enemies out, etc.

The third worker recognizes an even deeper value. A cathedral is a place where he hopes many come together for a common purpose.

Pope Francis reminds us of other workers

Always concerned about the dignity of persons, Pope Francis reminds us…

  • … the hidden workers, the workers who do hard labor in mines and in some factories: let’s think of them: about those who are exploited with undocumented work, those who are paid in contraband, on the sly, without a pension, without anything.
  • And if you do not work, you have no security. And today, there is a lot of undocumented work.
  • Let us think of the victims of work, of work accidents, of the children who are forced to work: this is terrible!
  • (Children) forced to work like adults! Let us think about those poor children who rummage in the dumps to look for something useful to trade.
  • All these are our brothers and sisters who earn their living this way: with jobs that do not give them dignity! Let us think about this. This is happening today.

Workers in the Lord’s Vineyard

As I reflected and prayed further about the three bricklayers, it hit me! Their three attitudes could be applied to workers in God’s vineyard.

Some approach Jesus’ teachings with a “what’s in it for me” attitude. If I keep all the rules, then I get rewarded with eternal happiness. An especially rigid version sees following Jesus as a “contract” with God. If I do this, then God must take care of me! Sometimes this is called the “salvation by works approach.”

Others may approach Jesus’ teaching simply as “a way of becoming a better person” … maybe even a saint or one of the “holy ones.” It can involve building a wall around oneself to avoid the contamination of the world… a distorted understanding of what some call “the Benedict” option? They may focus on “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect (Mt.5:38).” But it can simply be a wider vision of merely personal transformation.

Yet others recognize they are building the cathedral of God’s Kingdom in space and time. Everyone and everything is connected. They embrace their role of embodying Christ’s role as evangelizer. They collaborate with all to bring good news to all, especially the poor and forgotten people, building God’s cathedral of creation.

Is there anything in this Mindwalk that resonates with you?

Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.