“While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.’”
During Holy Week, my meditation often centers on the various characters of the Passion. There are the ones we know well, like the Blessed Mother and Pontius Pilate. There’s Peter, with his rash and mercurial actions that quickly go from wielding a sword to denying his friend. There are the ones who remain nameless, like the servant girl by the fire or the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’ garments. And there are the ones that receive a mere sentence but whose actions echo through the centuries, like Simon of Cyrene, the centurion who pierced his side, or the wife of Pilate.
The wife of Pilate, whom tradition names Procula or Claudia, has always intrigued me. She is mentioned in a single sentence in the Gospel of Matthew. Just when Pilate is agonizing over delivering an innocent man to death — “For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up”(Mt 27:18) — he receives a message from his wife.
“While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream’” (Mt 27:19).
What was in that dream that could have caused her so much pain? As you can imagine, this has captured the imagination of poets and playwrights through the centuries. One common idea is that she heard her husband’s name on the lips of Christians for thousands of years – not praising him for his military exploits or lauding his leadership, but professing that he crucified their God:
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate…
His is the only name we utter in the Nicene Creed other than the Virgin Mary’s.
Regardless of what the dream might have been, Claudia attempted to stop her husband from condemning Christ to death. We can argue Pilate’s culpability or lack thereof another time. But the fact remains, Claudia did what she could to persuade her husband out of the cowardly and tragic act.
When thinking of Claudia, I was struck by the parallel with Eve. Eve uses her feminine charm to coax her weak husband into sin. We know from the Genesis account that Adam was standing next to her while the devil tempted her. Rather than standing up to the Devil to protect his wife, Adam remains silent. He watches his wife fall, then allows her to lead him into sin.
As Adam’s name is forever linked with original sin, so Pilate’s name is forever linked with the crucifixion of Christ. But Claudia is a reverse of Eve. Like Eve, she has a husband who is weak in the face of temptation. He is swayed by pride and fear. Unlike Eve, Claudia attempts to rouse her husband to courageously oppose evil.
While we know that ultimately Christ freely accepted the cross, woe to him who was complicit in the action. Christ assures his disciples, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10:18). But he also warns them, “The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Mt 26:24).
Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the Cross saved us from the death that Adam and Eve chose for us in the Garden, a death we choose every time we sin. The paradox of the Cross is that it is something we caused by our sins, and something that we desperately need to save us from our sins. The death sentence that Pilate handed to Christ is the same one that could save Pilate from his guilt of complicity.
Ultimately, the new Eve is not Claudia, but Mary, who stands under the Tree of Life (the Cross) while the New Adam (Christ) dies to free us from death. But this Good Friday, what can we learn from the wife of Pilate?
Am I Eve or Claudia? Every sin is a nail in precious hands of our Redeemer, a heavy load that causes him to stumble on the Via Dolorosa. What do I do in the face of this evil? Do I raise my voice when I see a friend battling temptation? How do I encourage them towards heroic virtue? Do I speak up when I see injustice?
As Christians, we have a responsibility to be vocal and active in the face of evil. We must speak for those who cannot speak, either because of fear, weakness, or injustice. We must strive to never be an instrument of temptation for others and always call our neighbor to holiness. As Christ warned his Apostles, “He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur” (Luke 17:1).
This Good Friday, pray for the strength to resist evil in your own life, but also to serve as Claudia in the life of another. May we all call each other to holiness and build up our communities in the pursuit of the good.
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