I took my first Seafood industry job 30 years ago, working at the Pike Place Fish company in Seattle’s famous public market. I was eighteen years old and had no clue about seafood. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a king crab or snow crab, a mussel or a clam, but I heard the fishmongers made more money than the produce guys, so I was willing to learn.
The owner, a middle aged Japanese American man named Johnny Yokoyama was very wise and decided to teach me the difference between salmon species a la Mr. Miyagi style from the movie
“Karate kid”. Johnny instructed me to ice for Sean “row boat” Roe, who was taking different sized and shaped silvery fish (salmon) out of a giant tote and separating them by some mysterious, hidden criteria into smaller plastic tubs. Sean put the fish in the plastic tubs and I shoveled a layer of ice on top of them.
Five different classes of salmon emerged from the giant tote, but to me they all looked pretty much the same, just silvery fish, some big and some small. Johnny further instructed me to try and figure out the pattern that explained why Sean was putting some in one tote and not the other.
After several hours, days and weeks of doing the same job, it was my turn to sort. All Salmon no longer looked the same to me. Some were easy to distinguish – The pink salmon were smaller than all the rest, not much larger than a big trout, and like the name, the meat color was pink vs. red. The king salmon were the largest, and they were thick and stout as opposed to other species that were slender and long. The kings also had freckles on their skin and a square tail whereas none of the others did. Sockeye salmon had a super small head and were the deepest red in meat color with a distinctive reddish hue to the silvery blue skin. Silver salmon were more silvery and less red than the sockeye and also a bit larger in size, more slender and larger head. Chum salmon was much like the silver salmon but larger and leaner, and much paler meat.
On a deeper level, I could distinguish the different types of salmon by texture and flavor as I began consuming and enjoying fish and forming a personal opinion as to my favorite ( king). I learned some things by sight, other things by touch, and still others by taste or experience. Some salmon were rich and oily, while others lean and flaky and other intangibles I could never explain, you just have to try for yourself. As salmon became the focus of my occupation and consumption, the distinguishing characteristics loomed large and were obvious to me, but not to others who weren’t fishmongers- a light bulb went on for me.
That experience and training was a life lesson for me. Most people see in generalities unless they are involved, they see only salmon, they don’t see the details or unique characteristics that inform them of specific value and distinction unless they have to for a living, unless they are required to by another person, unless they are trained by experience, unless they do it themselves.
Since that time and forward, I have been a detailed person, never accepting anything at face value. I research, touch, taste, and try it on for size. Like me, Jesus was a fishmonger. He didn’t see just one mass multitude, he didn’t see Jews or gentiles, men or women, he saw individuals and everything about them, their unique qualities, their species, their image of God. The bible is full of stories of him including, restoring, valuing and loving people who were cast off by others as rotten fish. I believe my sorting experience is one of the reasons that Jesus equated people to fish that were hauled in by nets and why he told his disciples they would become fishers of men. To bring in any kind of harvest we have to handle people carefully and transition them from one environment to another. We will never see the unique value and individual worth ( that Christ died for) until we become personally involved with people, until we handle, touch and taste.
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea… ( Gen. 1:26msg)
18-20 Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
21-22 A short distance down the beach they came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, mending their fishnets. Jesus made the same offer to them, and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father. ( Matt. 4 msg)
Do you know “your” fish?