Thursday, April 13, 2017

Homily – Holy Thursday 2017 – Pilate’s Wife

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23- 26
John 13-1-15

(Indulge me if you would. Please close your eyes and daydream with me for a moment…)
Think back to the ancient world. 
Think back to Jesus Christ’s final night on earth. 
Think back to the model He was setting for us all in this simple act of service found on Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet. This simple act still echoes two-thousand years later. 
At the time of Jesus, nobility was to be served. They lived in grand palaces and had minions to take care of their every whim and need.
Then along comes Jesus, a homeless man who spends his entire ministry serving the needs of others instead of being served himself.
It was a model of behavior that afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.
This model was a threat to Jewish nobility. This model was a threat to Rome. This model is still a threat to some people of affluence and power today. (You can now open your eyes.)   
Now at the exact time Jesus was teaching his disciples about the sacredness of servant leadership, the wife of Pontius Pilate was having a troublesome, fitful sleep.  She was being haunted in a dream by Jesus.
Historians say her name was Claudia Procula. Greek scholar and early Christian theologian Origen was the first to mention that Claudia may have converted to Christianity.  In fact, in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Orthodox Church, she is known as St. Claudia.
We heard about her in last weekend’s Passion narrative found only in Matthew’s Gospel.
Remember this passage,
While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream (last night) because of him.”
Some may have a vivid image of Claudia from the movie The Passion of the Christ.  In it she is seen pleading with her husband Pontius Pilate to leave this innocent, holy man alone. When she realizes her failure to prevent Christ’s crucifixion, we see her, in an act of service, tearfully giving the mother of Jesus towels to clean up the blood of her Son's scourging and consoling her and Mary Magdalene. 
I read an interesting perspective on Claudia by Catholic philosopher Dr. Taylor Marshall who runs the New Saint Thomas Institute.
            In an examination of the tradition of Pontius Pilate’s wife, he found something remarkable, something astounding.
           He said “there is a ‘tradition’ that Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula had a dream of billions of people chanting ‘sub Pontio Pilato’ over and over and over.”
            Anyone remember their Latin? 
What’s the meaning of the word “sub?” 
(That’s right.) The word means “under” – thus in her dream she was hearing billions of people chanting “under Pontius Pilate.”
             Now think about that for a moment. 
How many Catholics exist on the planet today?   Estimates now place the number at almost 1.3 billion.  There are another 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world today.  Add to that all the Catholics and Orthodox Christians who have come before us.  Billions!
            Billions of people chanting “under Pontius Pilate.”
            Starting to see what Dr. Marshall is seeing?  Or better yet hear what Dr. Marshall is hearing?
            In both the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed there is the same line:  “under Pontius Pilate.” 
Dr. Marshall contends “What (Claudia) was hearing (in her dream) was the billions of Christians who recite ‘He was crucified (or suffered) under Pontius Pilate’” in the two Creeds chanted each week by Catholics and Orthodox Christians around the world. 
Dr. Marshall thinks, “Most women would be honored to know that their husband’s name would be on the lips of billions over a period of 20 centuries. But in the case of this Prefect of Judaea, it is the notorious reputation of being the … cause of Christ’s crucifixion” that haunted her sleep and eventually may have converted her to living a Christian life.
As Dr. Marshall reminds us “Pontius Pilate’s name is in the Creeds because it anchors the life of Christ into human history, specifically Roman history.”
So what does all of this have to do with Holy Thursday?
Good question.

As we heard in the first reading from Exodus, the Passover lamb was slaughtered so its blood could be spread over the doorposts of believers so they might be saved and live. 
As we know Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His body and His blood are what save us and bring us new life. The Eucharist is what keeps our faith alive today. 
Our Eucharistic feast was instituted on this very night 19-hundred-84 years ago.
St. Paul reminds us,
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
As we know, when we take Christ we are called to become Christ, serving the needs of others instead of serving ourselves, loving others as much as we love ourselves, just as Jesus commanded at the Last Supper.

The dream was a wake-up call for Claudia.  A wake-up call that all human privilege, prestige and honor are false constructs in the eyes of God.
That Jesus’ own example of privilege, prestige and honor turns the ancient world’s thoughts of nobility on their head. 
A true leader serves his people first. A true leader sacrifices for others (even his own life). A true leader washes the feet of others.

Peter had a hard time with this concept of servant leadership. As the kids would say today, he’s not getting what Jesus is “putting down.”
Jesus understood how hard it is for some of us to wrap our heads around the idea.
What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later."
Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet."
Jesus answered him, 
"Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."
As we read in Matthew’s Gospel:
“The Son of Man did not come to  be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This powerful act of service and self-sacrifice are at the epicenter of the Gospel message. They served as a wake-up call for the pampered and privileged Claudia.   

Jesus hopes they serve as a wake-up call for all of us as well.

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