One of my professors at the University of Edinburgh talked a lot about the significance of the narrative of the salmon. He thought it was sad that farm-raised salmon never get the chance to experience the narrative of the wild salmon — the true story of their destiny. Whether or not you would like to call it a narrative, the story of the salmon is really cool. There is actually a spot in Scotland where you can see them jumping up a waterfall and trying to make it upstream to spawn. While the story might be a complete nightmare if you have a lisp…it’s still a great stowy! You see, while most fish tend to go with the flow, the salmon start making their move upriver in the fall of the year, and when they feel they’ve found a good spot, they’ll lay their eggs. Often, they’ve gotten themselves so far upstream that by the time they’ve finished spawning, they’re in a high eddy where they can’t exactly get back downstream again. So they die there, but as their bodies decompose, they make the water extra-nourishing for the little eggy salmon waiting to be hatched. Their eggs are (hopefully mostly) safely kept there until it’s time to hatch, when they instinctively will begin the journey downstream to some more spacious waters, and the cycle will start over again.
There’s a beautiful spot at the Hermitage in Dunkeld where you can watch the salmon jump, and Mark took me there once a few years ago. It was amazing to see the fish trying to make it up this gushing waterfall, where they would honestly have to do a triple jump to make it to the top. Â I don’t think I ever saw one make it, but it was really entertaining to watch them try! Ooooh he almost made it! Ouch that one just faceplanted into a rock! But the fact that they have that amazing story, which as far as I know is unlike any other, makes them unique and special, and maybe even extra tasty.
The story of the Woman at the Well is similar — and yesterday’s blog (heck, a thousand blogs) couldn’t fully cover it. Something else that was really significant about the story was that Jesus was totally swimming upstream throughout His interactions with the Samaritan woman. In His day, it was not common for Jews to speak to Samaritans — they didn’t even want to go near them. Instead of treating the Samaritans like fellow human beings, they treated them like the red-headed stepchildren of the faith — they thought they needed to be treated like rubbish and totally ostracized. The Jews and Samaritans were constantly squabbling and bickering.Â Many a Jew in Jesus’ day would rather die of thirst than ask a Samaritan … especially a woman .. and one of questionable character at that, to draw a drink of water.
There’s probably not a lot to be surprised about in her response — “Um…like…aren’t you a Jew? So…ugh…why are you asking me for water? You guys don’t normally even want to be seen on the same hillside as us.” Jesus told her that if she knew with whom she was speaking, she would be asking Him for a drink of living water. She liked that idea, until Jesus suggested that she bring her husband and come back. She tries to skirt her ‘issues’ by simply saying she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus reads her mail and says, “Yeah…you’ve already had five, and you’re not even married to the guy you’re with now.”
Instead of outright telling Jesus to get our of her sauce, she just changes the subject, by bringing up part of the argument that has been going on between the Jews and Samaritans for ages. But once again, Jesus is not caught up in the cultural dilemmas of the day. Here’s how Matthew Henry puts it:
Jesus did not try to convince her of her schismatical belief system’s faults, but her conversion came about because He showed her her own ignorance and immoralities, and her need of a Saviour.
Although there are a thousand sermons to be preached on this simple interaction, here’s the place I’m headed: Jesus was not caught up in the cultural customs of His day. And that meant He was free to engage anyone He wanted, anywhere He wanted — Jew or Samaritan, Mute or Leper, Tax Collector or Prostitute. What does that say for us? It says to me — pay attention to where the customs of your culture might take you. Those customs might lead you in a different direction, and on a different path from the one the Lord would have you take. Has your culture made you think the best place for a woman is in the home? Has your culture made you believe that people of a different ethnicity are incapable or intellectually inferior? Have the common customs of your locale made you think there are places you shouldn’t go or people you shouldn’t help? And more significant, has your culture perhaps convinced you that you don’t actually have to make Jesus your Lord, and you can still call yourself a Christian?
We should constantly challenge our ways of thinking in light of the Truth of the Gospel. The Truth is, we could perhaps consider ourselves salmon. And our true destiny is to live, contrary to our nature, in the call of God. Our true destiny is to swim upstream, and live, not according to our sinful nature, but according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to God. And a life lived to God is a life lived upstream. If you are living in obedience to God, it is not likely that you will be doing the same thing as everyone around you. It is likely that the walk God has for you will be more of a challenge than a lazy afternoon ride on a raft headed with the current of the little stream He’s placed you in.
The cross is a heavy object. Carrying it is likely to bring you to places of resistance — places where it is difficult to lift this heavy object and bring it with you — places where it would be easier to turn back, to put it down, or to keep walking without it. Â If you should decide to put it down, to go with the current, and to keep on as you always were, you might still be swimming, but you’ll be swimming in nets on the farm…and you’ll never brave the open waters to live out the story God has for you.
Take an opportunity to swim upstream today. And please let me know how it goes.