Pilate's Wife

Little or no attention is given to Pontius Pilate's wife. Her words, any mention of her, is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. She appears only in one verse in the Bible, verse 19 of the 27th Chapter: "…while he [Pilate] was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, 'Have nothing to do with that righteous, innocent man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.'"

One verse, but it's a powerful one, and it is always, unfortunately, a "throw-away" in the light of Pilate and the events and verses that follow regarding releasing Barabbas and crucifying Jesus. If anything is remembered of Pilate, it's that he questions Jesus, lets Barabbas go, hands Jesus over to be crucified, AND he ceremoniously washes his hands in front of the crowd and says, "I am innocent of this man's blood; it is your responsibility."

But Pilate's wife, Claudia, even though from the Bible it is only in one verse we know of her, deserves more than to just get lost in the midst of those verses that follow.

What do we know of her? We know, from other writings of the time, that her name was Claudia Procola, and that she had an interest in the faith of the Jewish people her husband ruled. We know that she finally became a Christian. We know that the Greek Church canonized her.

In her one "claim to fame" verse, we see the insight of a truehearted woman. "Have nothing to do with that righteous, innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him."

Only God, the Holy Spirit, could have revealed to her that Jesus was a righteous man. Rumors about Jesus and his works certainly had reached the palace, and she may even have seen and heard Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem. But to know he was righteous and innocent, it had to be God who told her (one can only be righteous before God-that is, in a right relationship with God-and one is only innocent before God, as only God can forgive our sins of straying from a right relationship with him). It could only have been the Holy Spirit that revealed that to her. So, it had to be God, the Holy Spirit, who came to her in a dream, and by which she recognized Jesus' righteousness and innocence.

And she tells Pilate, tells us that she has suffered much that day because of the dream. The content of her dream is apparently brought into her waking state of consciousness. In fact, it apparently has awakened a part of her conscience that she was unaware of: the ruling part, that which is connected to God and God's will.

All the things she has learned from her childhood on up as a believer in the Roman, pagan, gods, she now sees in a new light. She sees particular traditions, rituals, beliefs as out of harmony with God's will. But she still lives in a Roman world; she is still the Roman Governor's wife; she still moves in Roman circles.

Does she keep silent about what God has given to her in a dream? Or does she speak out?

It's a situation not unlike ones that we face in the living of our own lives. God shows us what is right; but often the pressure of not going against the tide, the norm, the system, makes us back off from speaking out.

But Claudia was a woman of courage and compassion. And something in her dream about Jesus, carried into the consciousness of her day, and it made her suffer. She had a conflict in her mind and spirit. She was convicted.

That still happens-happens to many of us today, and yet we often don't have the courage, as she did, to speak out, speak up, especially for another person. And if we do, we are often ostracized, or folks take a stance against us; they are angry at our words and they then judge us in some way that separates them from us. Look at what happened to people who have stood up for a Black person. They were not just ostracized, often they were burned out of their home or their family threatened, and in many cases they themselves lost their lives. The same is true for someone who stands up for a homosexual who is being mistreated, whether physically or in matters of justice. That person is either harassed or ostracized or also named as a homosexual. Or look what happens when a man speaks up against another man, speaking up for a woman who has been sexually harassed. He is shut out from the camaraderie of other men. He's shunned by the men. Or look what women suffer when they speak out, speak up for one another when there has been sexual harassment or even rape. Those who speak up become a target themselves.

Look at people who are "whistle blowers." Most often they lose their jobs. Rather than be rewarded in some way for speaking out, for pointing out an injustice or a gross act of wastefulness or callousness, they are harassed, rejected.

It's not easy to speak up when we know the possible consequences. I truly think most folks would take a stand for another person, would speak out in their favor if there were not possible severe consequences. But it takes an extra measure of courage, of compassion to do so in the face of possibly becoming a targeted person yourself.

Claudia most certainly was taking a big chance. That is, Pilate was a violent man. He is well known in history for being brutal, for putting to death many people for the least sign of rebelliousness. Pilate most certainly was abusive to Claudia, especially if she went against him in some way. So, here, sending a message to him while he is in the public eye, telling him what to do, had to have enraged him against her.

But Claudia had courage, born of her compassion, born of her being convicted through a dream that made her suffer in her awakened mind and spirit.

Because her words to her husband went unheeded, she is overlooked in the scheme of events. But as we've seen, her act of speaking out was one that we all need to pay attention to, one that points to our having courage to speak out when God convicts us to do so, especially to help another person.

It's not a matter of whether we see results; that is, whether what we, as an individual, say that is recognized or accepted or ignored or rejected. What matters is that our relationship to and with God remains a righteous one: we remain in a right relationship with God. The results of anything God asks us to do are not in our hands, but God's. Claudia's speaking up did not stem the tide against Jesus. So, should she not have spoken up since it didn't make any difference? That's an excuse that many folks use. They don't speak up, saying, "What difference will it make?" or after the fact, "What difference would it have made?" The difference is that if God puts something on our hearts to speak up and we don't, we have denied God.

As with Claudia, when God speaks to us, when God convicts us of a particular matter, we must speak out. That is what is important.

One last thing, on a deeper, inner spiritual level of learning: Claudia speaks, or sends word to Pilate when he is on the "judgment seat" before the crowd. When we, ourselves, sit on a judgment seat regarding another, (or ourselves), that is when we must listen to the voice of God within us, and listen to what it is saying to us: "Get off the judgment seat!"

That inner voice brings a message to us: through a dream, through a Scripture passage, through a spouse, a friend, even a stranger can bring us a message from God. And if we are sitting on the judgment seat, judging another, that inner voice bringing us a message from God will always say to us, "Get off the judgment seat! Leave the judging to me because all you are called to do is show compassion, not judge."

How true that is! And whenever we look at another person (or ourselves, our own shortcomings), through the eyes of compassion, there is no room for judgment, only love and forgiveness.

During this season of Lent, as we strive to deepen our relationship with God; as we work at being in a right relationship with God, may we become more and more aware of all the channels through which God is speaking to each of us-even through one obscure woman in one verse of the entire Bible!


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