Signpost for Sunday 9th April 2017, Palm/Passion Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:9-11; Matthew 27:11-54.
As Andrew pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Lenten “lections” (a new word to me, though pretty obvious, no need to look up the meaning, but I did, and had to go to the weighty O.E.D.) provide an abundance of material for comment, and today is certainly no exception. Today even provides several choices. We at Christ Church have settled for the account of Jesus before Pilate, a lengthy reading with a bewildering array of dramatic moments. So, where to begin? Perhaps somewhere relatively insignificant in this unimaginably significant faith story.
Pilate’s wife! She is not named by Matthew (nor even mentioned in the other Gospels), but tradition tells us she was Claudia a high-born Roman woman, possibly even a granddaughter of Caesar Augustus, and thus of a higher social standing than Pilate himself. She is accorded only three lines in the entire Bible, but those three lines have an undeniable ring of truth about them.
It was unusual for a Roman woman to accompany her husband to outposts of empire. It is hinted that Claudia used her influence with the emperor Tiberius to obtain permission to do so. Does the fact that she chose to leave her home and the high life of Rome for the dullness and loneliness of Judea show her to be a devoted wife? Did she and Pilate get on well? Did he talk to her about his job? Did he say to her on that fateful Thursday evening, “I’m dreading tomorrow – that Caiaphas fellow is really out to get the troublesome Jewish prophet this time”? Did she go to bed worried about the implications for her husband’s career? Dreams don’t come out of nowhere. The biblical account, short though it is, tells us that she had a sleepless night. Was it during her tossings and turnings that she received a blinding insight into the true nature of Jesus, about whom she would inevitably have heard many stories and to whom she may have already been drawn. So much so that truth and justice took precedence over everything else. She got up in a panic – but Pilate had already gone to work. So she sent a message, the urgency of which has resounded through the ages: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man…” And with that unheeded message the biblical story of Pilate’s wife ends.
But the tradition, which appears well-founded, gives us Claudia as an unlikely disciple – a high-born, Gentile woman. The Church is spreading already across all boundaries! She is venerated in the Greek Orthodox Church.