Sibubog! Sibubog! Fish Tales with Jesus

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Spiritual Refelctions by Fr Roderick Salazar SVD (Philippines)

This is the Bicol term for the Tagalog Galunggong.
If you don’t know that fish, imagine one you know.

Expand the imagined scene to a time in the 1950s:
Pre-dawn darkness and light, Legazpi City beach,
fishermen out at sea the night before now ashore,
their catch in full display for the men and women who
would buy and sell the fish.

The haggling done, the fish are loaded into the large
flat round sawali baskets the vendors would put on their
heads as they start shouting their wares, each in his or her
own route in Legazpi, Albay, Daraga.

By now, it is between six o’clock and seven o’clock in the
morning, and it is the time when the shouts start to be
audible in our little town: SIBUBOG, SIBUBOG – if that
was the main catch — or TURINGAN, TURINGAN, or,
if there was a variety on the basket, just SIRA, SIRA,
the Bicol word for ISDA (Fish), a term which Tagalogs
find amusing and curious, since in Tagalog, SIRA means
something that has been destroyed.

Whatever. But the welcome shouting of the wares would
spare many a housewife a trip to the city market that day,
the most probable main viand for the day now available.

SIBUBOG, SIBUBOG I heard in my dream one night,
having read before I went to bed the Gospel for the next
day, Mark 1, 14-20, about Jesus starting his public ministry,
proclaiming that it was now the time of fulfillment, the
Kingdom of God had come, and all who heard were to repent
and start believing in the Gospel.

As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two sets of
brothers who were fishermen: Simon and Andrew, who were
casting their nets, and James and John who were mending theirs.

Jesus called them to follow Him, and the Brothers Four just left
their nets, their boats, and for James and John, their father,
and followed Jesus.

I thought I heard the modern Brothers Four sing their famous Green Leaves of Summer for the 1960s movie The Alamo:
“’t’was so good to be young then, in the season of
plenty, when the catfish were jumping as high as the sky…”

But in Mark’s Gospel scene, there is no mention of fish.
Perhaps the fishermen had already disposed of them, and
their equivalent of itinerant fish vendors were now doing
their version of Sibubog, Sibubog or Sira Sira in Galilee.

Luke (5, 1-11) describes the following of Jesus by the Brothers
Four in a different way, though the situation is similar. It is
early morning but already on the shore of Lake of Gennesaret
Jesus is surrounded by a huge crowd that He can hardly be
seen. Jesus boards one of two boats sitting idly by the sea,
the one belonging to Simon, and asks him to put out a little
distance from the shore. Using the boat as a platform or stage,
Jesus then preaches to the crowd on the shore.

His homily for the day done, and in order to reward Peter for
the use of his boat, Jesus tells Peter: DUC IN ALTUM.
Go out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.

Peter the Fisherman reverently addresses Jesus the Carpenter
saying that the whole night he and his friends were just out
at sea and caught nothing. It is broad daylight now (Peter
does not really say but probably thinks) and the fish must be
idling in the depths.

But, but, IF YOU SAY SO, Master, BECAUSE You say so,
I will lower our net for a catch.
And when Peter does so, lo and behold the elusive fish
of the night before just jump almost willingly into Peter’s net
nearly breaking it, so that Peter has to yell for help from
the other fishermen.

Peter is dumbfounded. How could this Carpenter know where the fish were when just some hours ago they, the veteran fishermen had only empty nets to show?

Even on the boat Peter does not look at the fish but at the Man who drove the fish to the nets, and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But he does not really seem to mean what he
says because upon returning to shore, Peter and his companions,
James and John, sons of Zebedee, do not run away from Jesus but
instead follow Him.

And the fish? I suppose no one has to shout “Sira, Sira” or their
version of “Sibubog. Sibubog”. The huge catch of fish is left on the boat on the shore for any one and every one to take.

A Carpenter has just caught the fishermen in His net.

There is another Gospel scene that every time I read it or even
just remember it, makes me smile with infinite delight, seeing how
Jesus loved Peter even though at some point Peter would deny
three times that he knew Jesus. This is in Matthew 17, 24-27.

Asked by Temple tax collectors if Jesus paid temple taxes,
Peter says Yes. But in the house, Jesus, who knew what had
been asked of Peter, asks him in turn who really pays taxes:
subjects of kings or children of kings. Peter answers that subjects
do, not children. So Jesus, Son of the King of heaven and earth,
says that therefore children are exempt from paying temple taxes.

Still, Jesus says, so as not to offend the collectors,
“Go to the sea, throw in a hook and open the mouth
of the first fish you catch. You will find a coin in it,
take it, and let it pay for you and for me.”

Oh, what a loving line: For you and for me.

Gospel writer John (21,1-23) has his own story of Jesus and fish.

Told by Mary Magdalene who first met the Resurrected Jesus in
Jerusalem, in Judea in the south, that Jesus wanted to meet them
in Galilee, in the north, the Apostles find themselves where they
used to walk around following Jesus, but this time they see no Jesus.

Night time finds them out at sea, but expert fishermen that they are or have been, they catch nothing. At early dawn, exhausted by their fruitless efforts, the apostles hear a shout from shore,
one hundred yards away, asking if they had caught any fish.

Answering that they have not, they are told to cast their nets on the side of the boat for a catch. When they do so, lo and behold, the once-elusive fish are now jumping into the disciples’ nets.
“It is the Lord!”
John says of the mysterious stranger on the shore.

And Peter jumps into the sea and swims to shore to see Jesus who
by now, resurrected, no longer seems to have the same features that the apostles were familiar with. Still they accept that it is Jesus. They accept, too, His invitation to eat of the fish He was broiling on shore, and to add what they had just caught.
Ah! They who had once shared a LAST SUPPER
now have a FIRST BREAKFAST with Jesus Himself as Chef.

Fish tales these, stories with Jesus and fish.
No wonder early Christians in Rome, suspected and persecuted for being followers of the Way (of Jesus), adopted a sign only they knew as referring to Jesus:
the drawing, no matter how crude, of a FISH.

In the Greek language, the word for FISH is ICHTHUS.

The Greek letters
Iota (i); Chi (ch); Theta (Th); Upsilon (y or u); Sigma (s)
form an acrostic: Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter:

Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior.

Perhaps the Sibubog, Sibubog shouts I have in my memory and heard in my dream are a reminder for me to affirm my faith and my love for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

It is the Lord! He is my Lord!

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