PASSION / EASTER
The Wife of Pontius Pilate
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. Matthew 27:19-20
Pontius Pilate shares with Caesar Augustus the dubious distinction of being the only two Roman officials whose names have become well known to Christians through the centuries. Many Christians repeat the name of Pontius Pilate each time we sing or recite one of the old historic creeds. All Christians repeat the name of Caesar Augustus each time we read the familiar Christmas story from Luke chapter 2.
Early in Christian history, the reputation of Pontius Pilate took two opposite turns:
• Certain followers of Christ started repeating a tradition that Pilate later suffered great remorse because he had condemned Jesus to death. Eventually he committed suicide. Several locations in Europe claim to be the place where the despairing Pilate took his own life.
• Other Christians started repeating a tradition that Pilate eventually repented and became a follower of Christ. Even into modern times the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has celebrated a saints’ day honoring both Pilate and his wife.
Pilate’s wife! Now, there’s another story. Neither the suicide of Pilate nor the conversion of Pilate seems to be rooted in any known historical data. But it is a provable fact that Pontius Pilate was married, and that his wife’s name was Claudia Procula.
Only once does Procula appear in the Scriptures, in the verses quoted above. Rarely do we have dreams about a person unless we have known that person or have been thinking about that person. Why do you suppose Procula dreamed about Jesus? Why did that dream, according to her own testimony, cause her a great deal of suffering?
No one knows. Matthew only records the fact that Procula tried in vain to keep her husband from giving in to the cries of the crowd. How do you suppose she felt when her plea was ignored? Did she suffer even more when the Man she had come to know through her disturbing dream was stripped, beaten, and led out to be crucified?
Read this Bible-based poetic meditation from the might-have-been thoughts of Pilate’s wife — one of those tantalizing might-have-been characters who appear briefly in the Bible.
A strange place, Judea — so different from Rome.
I didn’t like living there, far from our home.
The people were strange; they had rather face death
than give up their worship. They prayed with each breath,
invoking a deity no one could see.
How strange their religion! How foreign to me!
The strangest of all was a Teacher, a man
who caused great excitement each time he began
to make the sick well, even raise up the dead.
This roused opposition, brought things to a head.
He rode into town with hosannas of praise.
He taught in the Temple for several days.
And then I encountered that Teacher by night;
my dream left me horrified, gasping with fright.
My husband was asked to take over the case.
I sent him word: “Pilate, it isn’t your place
to punish an innocent man. Hear your wife!”
What happened next haunts me each day of my life.
O God, help me and everyone else to make the right answer to that fateful question posed by Pontius Pilate soon after hearing his wife’s warning: “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” [Matthew 27:22a]. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas