Lenten Season Lectio Divina Series: Pilate’s Wife

This is the fifth entry in our Lenten series of posts taken from Stephen Binz’s Ancient-Future Bible Study: Experience Scripture through Lectio Divina. See our previous entries:

Week One: Abraham: “Ancestor of All”

Week Two:  David: “The Shepherd Who Is Also King”

Week Three: Sarah: “Listen to Sarah, the Quarry of Encouragement”

Week Four: Peter: “From Crumbled Failure to Rock of Strength”

Be sure to check out our videos that further explain this terrific series.

This week, we are posting a study from the introduction to Binz’s volume Women of the Gospels: Friends and Disciples of Jesus.

A Forgotten Advocate for Jesus

Lectio

Carefully read these words from Matthew’s Gospel, asking God’s Spirit to open your heart.

Matthew 27:15–19

15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

Continue seeking the significance of this passage for Matthew’s passion account.

Pilate’s wife is another of those unnamed women of the Gospel accounts who plays a behind-the-scenes role in relationship to an influential man. She intervenes with her powerful husband to try to stop the condemnation of Jesus, an “innocent man.” She doesn’t even appear in the scene at Pilate’s judgment hall; her voice is heard only through a messenger. Only this single verse of Scripture mentions her, so we have no indication whether she had even seen Jesus or encountered him during his ministry in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of Matthew sets up a dramatic contrast between the religious leaders who plead for Jesus Barabbas and Pilate’s wife, who pleads for Jesus the Messiah. The leaders are motivated by “jealousy,” while Pilate’s wife seeks justice for Jesus because of the truth revealed to her in a dream. Both the Jews and Romans took dreams very seriously, and Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth had already shown how the Gentile magi received God’s warning in a dream in order to save the newborn’s life (2:12). Now, in this account of Jesus’s death, this Gentile woman intercedes to try to save the life of the Jewish Messiah.

Her pleading is ultimately unsuccessful as her vacillating husband gives in to the pressure of the crowds. The Gospel doesn’t tell us what happened to Pilate’s wife, either immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus when she encountered her husband again, or the direction of her life from then on. However, the indication that she “suffered a great deal” for Jesus, a New Testament indicator of discipleship, may hint at the later tradition that she became a follower of Christ.

Meditatio

Imagine and consider the behind-the-scenes drama taking place in the heart of Pilate’s wife while her husband sits on the judgment seat.

What might be some of the motivations of Pilate’s wife in urging her husband to have nothing to do with the murder of this innocent man? What does it tell me about the importance of suffering for the truth?

After the death of Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” what might be some of the conversation between Pilate and his wife? What can I learn and imitate from her witness?

Oratio

Respond in prayer to God, who gives you new insights and hope through listening to his Word.

God of all creation, you created man and woman in your image and sent Jesus the Christ to teach us how to live together in your love. Jesus drew forth the courage and beauty of the women of the Gospels and brought restoration and hope to their lives. He wept with them in their pains, laughed with them in their joys, affirmed them in their resiliency, and empowered their lives with confident trust. Bless my life as I listen, reflect, and pray with the Gospel texts of these women. Transform my life as you did theirs with the power of your Word.

Continue to pray to God from your heart . . .

Contemplatio

Remain in peaceful quiet and place yourself in God’s loving embrace. Ask God to give you whatever gift he desires for you during these moments.

©2011 by Stephen J. Binz. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without expressed written permission is strictly prohibited.

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