A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—All Saints of Rus’ Ukraine-Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Prayerful Words of a Centurion and a Publican

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—All Saints of Rus’ Ukraine-Sunday, June 28, 2020

Gospel Readings Matthew 8:5-13, (All Saints) Matthew 5:1-16

 

On the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, our Ukrainian Catholic Church remembers All Saints of Rus’ Ukraine.

 

In the tropar of All Saints, we learn that these were virtuous men and women “who glorified Christ:  princes and bishops, monastics and martyrs, and steadfast confessors of Christian Ukraine throughout all times.”  They lived the beatitudes taught to us by Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount.

 

The saints “shine as bright beacons. . . .  By their encouraging example, they serve communities of faithful throughout the Christian world.”  (Kondak of All Saints)

 

The saints are ordinary people who led extraordinary, virtuous and holy lives, who are honored by the church. They are exemplars for us to follow and emulate and they also serve as intercessors for us in heaven.

 

In his three year public ministry, Jesus encountered many ordinary people from all walks of life—fishermen, Pharisees, adulterers, tax collectors, centurions—and all nationalities—Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans. He also cited ordinary people in the many parables He used to illustrate lessons as He taught His audiences and His disciples.

 

In the Gospel for today, the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, a centurion approaches Jesus with a request to heal his servant.  The centurion, a person who had 100 soldiers under him, hence the name centurion, was a military officer in the Roman legion that occupied the territory of the Jews. Yet he approaches this Jewish Teacher for help.  When Jesus replies, “I will come and cure him” the centurion, in his humility says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  (Mt. 8:8)

 

And how does Jesus respond?  He comments on the quality of the centurion’s faith.  When Jesus heard this, He was amazed and said to those following Him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  (Mt. 8:10)

 

Jesus often comments on the quality of one’s faith, even if one’s faith is only the size of a mustard seed.

 

In one of the preparatory Sundays before the Great Fast, we recall Jesus’ parable of the Publican and the Pharisee which tells the story of two men going up to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee was a religious leader; the publican was a tax collector for the officials of the Roman Empire.  What does Jesus emphasize?  The humility and prayerful attitude of the Publican, whose simple prayer was “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Lk 8:13)

 

Let each of us ask ourselves, if we would encounter Jesus today, how would He evaluate  the quality of our faith and the humility of our prayer?   In the Gospels, He emphasized these aspects of faith to the many people he countered and in His teaching parables. Would we be comfortable with Jesus’s assessment of the quality of our faith?

 

The words of both the Centurion and the Publican have been immortalized in the liturgical prayer of the church.

 

In the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy, before the reception of Holy Communion, the faithful recite the words of the Centurion:  “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

 

In our Divine Liturgy, we remember the words of the Publican when we recite the Prayer before receiving the Holy Mysteries, which includes, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

 

Two ordinary people, a Centurion and a Publican, whose humble and sincere expressions of faith, articulated through simple words, have become prayers of the Church.

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