Nevertheless, She Persisted – The Story of Pilate’s Wife

“Every woman has a story and every woman’s story matters to God.”

James Tissot. The message from Pilate’s wife.
Paperback Wise, Strange and Holy : The Strange Women and the Making of the Bible Book


INTRODUCTION

What can be said or understood of a woman whose story encompasses only two sentences in New Testament scripture? Is a story of this brevity even worth considering? Can we glean anything of importance from so brief a presentation? Should we just move on, as so many others have done, in search of a narrative more expansive and impactful?

The answer to these questions are found in an amazing story of a woman so obscured within the pages of New Testament history that her name is unknown to most of us; yet, her husband’s name is prominent, not only in the bible but within Christian history through the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds – the great statements of Christian belief. We know his name as Pontius Pilate, who was partly responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. While her name, Pilate’s wife, is muted in the Bible, she is known in Greco-Roman history as Procla or Claudia.

Through the record of her disturbing dream (possibly a nightmare) we encounter a woman devoted to the pursuit of seeking justice for a Jewish rabbi known in her time as Jesus of Nazareth. Due to this dreamer’s persistence, Procla or Claudia became an important part of Christian history and an inspiration to women whose mission and assignment is to stand for truth and justice.

And now, THE WORD from our Sponsor (Matthew 27: 17-19)……………………….

“So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him”.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Pontius Pilate is a name we all know. Each Sunday, for most church-going Protestants and Catholics, the Apostles’ Creed was once a part of our religious experience: “He [Jesus] suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried……….” Pilate, it seems, will forever be connected to the cowardly and outrageous act of releasing the criminal Barabbas, while sending Jesus, completely innocent of any crime, to His death. Pilate’s account is also found outside of biblical history, since he occupied an important political position, as the governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ political and religious persecution. Known as the “prefect” of Judea, his responsibilities included the supervision of justice and rule over the territory. In other words, Pilate was responsible for “keeping the peace.” Mentioned in all four gospel accounts, his name and history can be traced in the biographies of Jesus, as well as ancient Greco-Roman histories of his time.

We find that Procla (or Claudia) has little mention in the bible or even outside of it. The reference of her actions for Jesus are recorded in one gospel account, that of Matthew. So why bother with her story at all? Does Procla really matter to us, especially against the tradition of great women of Scripture who performed courageous and notable deeds for God? The answer is “Yes,” she does matter and here is one of the major reasons why: Procla is the ONLY WOMAN of Scripture, in the Old or New Testament, who is recorded to have a dream which was directly attached to a movement for God: “In a room full of posturing, arrogant and self-interested men, only [Jesus] and the woman rise above the fray. In the Gospels, she [Procla] stands in a long parade of women, full of grace, truth, and courage, some named, others nameless, who knew Christ’s full identity. While the Church has struggled to acknowledge and truly hear the voices of women in their midst, the female players of the Gospel story seem wiser than many of the men.” ( Reference: “The only woman to give evidence at the trial of Christ – mikefrost.net).

In the Matthean narrative, there are five recorded dreams: (Matthew 1:20, Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2: 19-20; Matthew 27: 19). As the author of the second gospel, Matthew, a Jewish Christian understood the importance of dream traditions in holy scripture: “Jewish thinking presents dreams as messages from the Divine – signals to enable us to understand ourselves better and to realign our lives with the divine plan. In that respect, dreams represent an intimate and direct personal communication between the individual and the Ruach ha Kodesh (The Holy Spirit), similar to the gift of prophecy and vision.” (Reference: On the Wings of Shekhinah – Rediscovering Judaism’s Divine Feminine – Rabbi Leah Novick)

As students of the Scripture, we also understand how important dreams are to the biblical narrative. Considering the great figures of the bible, like Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, Daniel, Solomon, and Peter, whom were all granted divine revelation through dreams, the godly act of “signs and wonders” was a sacred method by which God messaged his anointed. There are twenty- one dreams noted in the bible, with only Procla recorded as the female recipient of godly guidance through a dream. The book of Matthew begins with a recording of a God-given dream via the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth, (with Mary as the birth vessel) and the life of Jesus ends with the pronouncement of a dream, via Procla. As Matthean bookends, we see God using dreams to present sacred interpretation of divine intent to humanity. Within this sacred intentionality, Procla is chosen by God as a conduit.

Her dream is more of a disturbance than a reverie. As she writes her husband a note, she says: “Have nothing to do with this righteous man, for I have suffered greatly because of Him.” In this divine dream, God revealed the nature of Jesus’ innocence/righteousness to Procla, something which was not revealed to her husband, or the other men at Jesus’ trial. God deposited the truth in her mind and soul through a dream, and she admitted she struggled or wrestled, like Jacob, with God’s divine deposit.

Despite being a Gentile woman of high privilege and position, Procla does not hesitate to defend a marginalized, Jewish political prisoner. This speaks volumes about who Procla was despite her wealthy status. Procla could have easily aligned herself with Pilate’s political power and privilege, becoming an “ancient Karen,” but instead we see her speaking truth to power to her own husband!

Procla stretches to get there. We know this by her own admission: “I have suffered greatly.” She informs us, through her personal and painful statement, that truth-telling, a stance for justice, and the denial of self-interest are what God desires from all of us. The “sleeper awakens” and nothing can stop her from giving her testimony for Jesus: “He is a righteous man!”

Nevertheless, Procla persisted, despite her privileged background, stepping into her divine assignment, distinguishing herself, as a woman who not only dreamed, but ACTED! Procla acted with integrity, boldness, compassion, and timeliness. Procla’s story teaches us that there will always be a risk, a sacrifice, a struggle to stand for righteousness; yet the fierce urgency of justice demands our voice, and demands our voice in God’s timing and not our own. Procla did not wait for the “opportune time.” Instead, she acted with the immediacy of a woman who knew that she had divine assignment that would not wait for the convenient moment.

As we know, Pilate ignored his wife’s admonition and allowed the crowd to have its way – Barabbas went free and Jesus died on the cross. Was Procla’s brave pronouncement meaningless? Absolutely not! God ALWAYS finds a way to reveal God’s self to humanity and in this case, God used a pampered, privilege pagan woman to declare Jesus’ innocence to the world.

Her obedience to the will of God, while dismissed by Western Christianity, is revered in Coptic (Egyptian), Ethiopian and Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. These religious traditions not only recognize the sacrificial action of Procla; but honor her as a saint of their denominations: “Pilate’s wife is recognized as a saint, Saint Procula, in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church her feast day is celebrated on the 27th of October.” (margmowczko.com – 9/29/2017).

“She [Procla/Claudia] was recognized as a holy martyr by the Greek Orthodox, the Coptic and the Ethiopian Churches. According to many authors, Pilate’s wife was later converted to Christ, and, according to some evidence, she was executed as a Christian.” (Reference: Pontius Pilate’s Wife – orthochristian.com)

Ultimately, this disturbed and devoted dreamer, used by God to testify on behalf of the Messiah demanded justice for the Savior, and stands with the other women of Scripture, as a tour de force, persisting and pronouncing the truth, with the testimony of Jesus on her lips. To God be the Glory! Amen!

Our question for discussion and consideration: While it is certain that other women of Scripture had dreams of significance, why do you think Procla was chosen as the only female in Scripture to have recorded a dream?

Final Quotations:

Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. (Langston Hughes)

Hope is a waking dream (Aristotle)

For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. (Ephesians 5:14)

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