Holy Week Meditations: Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Happy Holy Wednesday!! We're moving through Holy Week to the cross and the tomb and today we're looking at another minor character in the passion narrative, Pilate's wife - let's call her, Claudia

The Message of Pilate's Wife  by James Tissot

The Message of Pilate's Wife by James Tissot

Though Claudia appears in only one sentence of the narrative, I think it an interesting detail worth exploring! In Matthew 27:19 we find Pilate examining Jesus and ready to make his decision when he gets word from his wife. Some artists have taken liberty and depicted Claudia herself running to tell him although it seems like a messenger is the one who brings word. Either way, she's had a dream about Jesus, which is rather odd considering who she is and where she is from: she is a Roman citizen; probably a member of the equestrian class (not horses, but a step down from senate and ruling class); and the wife of the Governor. Let's have a look at the text:  

While 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.
— Matthew 27:19 (NRSV)

So perhaps it was a handwritten note that he receives. I wonder if it gave him pause. The next verse says that the chief priests and elders were growing impatient pressing him for a decision. I wonder if his ego shoved it aside - disregarded it - because Mrs. Pilate was unhappy with this post in po-dunk nowhere Judea. I wonder he wrote her off because she started having visions and dreams and his inflated sense of self thought it was not her place to influence his decisions. I wonder how she bore those private sufferings (after seeing into the heart of God's plans and Jesus' transforming love) as a loving wife, a dutiful Roman, and therefore a hopelessly trapped woman because of all of this.

Have you ever suffered a great deal because of dream? Many throughout scripture "suffered" or were bothered or had their lives interrupted because of dreams: Jacob dreams of a ladder; Joseph dreams and interprets Pharaoh's dreams in Egypt; Daniel dreams and interprets for the Babylonian King; Joseph dreams about danger from Herod and the holy family flees to Egypt; the wise men/magi dream and return home by a safer route; but these are just some highlights. The point is, God speaks to them (and us, I believe!) through dreams. I've heard it said that a reoccurring dream is the Holy Spirit telling us something but the message is not going through. After my father's death, I suffered a great deal because of reoccurring dreams - but I see them now as God comforting me and I am grateful for them. 

But back to the text and the narrative and Jesus who awaits verdict: given the nature of dreams in scripture, this is another instance of God breaking in and the veil between us being torn like the temple curtain later that day. Sam Wells points out that Claudia's use of the word "innocent" is worth noting. It spells grave consequences, morally, for Pilate that to condemn the wrong/innocent/righteous person could potentially weigh on his soul. It also gives power to Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. His sinlessness, purity, and willingness to be a sacrificial lamb are affirmed through a gentile - an unlikely character (which, is par for the course with how God chooses to operate as often he speaks and uses the outsider, the seedy character, the seemingly unworthy to reveal his kingdom and will.)  

Questions for us today:

  • Recall a time when you were unable to trust someone close to you: how did it feel?
  • Have you ever been silenced? How did it feel? 
  • What is it like to sometimes NOT be able to talk about your faith, openly, publicly? 
  • When you first met Christ, who did you tell? How did they react? 
  • Do you remember dreams? If so, how might God be speaking through them? What message is not going through?  


Holy Week Meditations: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Welcome to Holy Tuesday! So in full disclosure, when I was a senior at UNC Chapel Hill I attended Holy Family Episcopal and for Lent that year, the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells (then dean of Duke Chapel) led a five week series on his book, Power & Passion and I simultaneously developed a renewed interest in pondering the scriptures as well developed a huge man-crush. But I digress. 

Today, in the spirit of that book, as eye-opening and life-changing as it was for me, we'll look at one character in our passion narrative from Matthew. Why? In Wells' words, "I am assuming that every single character mentioned in the narrative is there for a reason. No detail is trivial" (p.19). (I'm paraphrasing a lot of Sam Wells' work here - please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.)

Cozy up. Grab a coffee. Ans lets look at Jesus Barabbas. Particularly, Matthew 27:15-23 where Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor, and we learn about another character named "Jesus Barabbas." We learn he's a "notorious prisoner" and that Pilate probably wants both of them killed as they both pose a threat. But as the text says, he doesn't want a riot so he bows to the wishes of the crowd. One thing Wells points out and the thing I find most interesting is the meaning behind "Barabbas'" name. Seriously, the guy's name is Jesus Bar ("son") Abbas ("of the father"). Pilate gives the crowd a choice: Jesus son-of-the-father, or Jesus...wait for it...son of God the Father. Mind blown the first time I heard this. Still think secondary characters/details aren't important?

The crowd chooses Barabbas and we are meant to find ourselves among those ranks shouting, "We want Barabbas!" Barabbas was a zealot and he believed that Rome could be overthrown by violence. Jesus of Nazareth cannot even be reduced to the word "zealot" because his overthrowing will not only be of Rome but of DEATH ITSELF. It will be the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Barabbas' followers just wanted Rome, out. Barabbas wasn't even a very good rebel - the guy was caught! But we and the crowd chose Barabbas. Jesus, it appeared to zealous followers of Judaism who were tired with the Jewish leaders in cahoots with the Romans, was also not a very good zealot. The change of which he spoke was to be an "inner, spiritual change" (p68). The ironic thing is, the change Jesus brings is not with violence (remember we just read that Jesus tells a disciple, "put away your I leading a rebellion?") but through willingly dying a violent death on an instrument of torture he makes the cross and resurrection the center of the universe (p81). 

Questions to ponder today: 

  • When have we chosen Rome's way (i.e. the way of the world/idolatry/our own desires) and not God's? 
  • Given the choice between violence and risking compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation, which will we choose?  
  • Do you believe that Jesus died for something bigger than a free Jerusalem? 
  • Do you believe that Jesus' death was instead for love, all of humanity, and us? 
  • If yes, will you be open to receiving that love? 
  • Despite the condemnation and our choosing the easy, violent path, do we believe we are worthy of Jesus' love?
  • Do we believe that we are all imperfect, broken and make terrible choices contrary to the work of the cross? And in spite of that, do you believe that in choosing the cross and death that Jesus makes us all (in all our imperfection and brokenness) worthy?

Holy Week Meditations: Monday, April 10, 2017

Welcome to Monday in Holy Week! Today, offer a pause, a chance to recover from the drama of Palm Sunday before we plunge into looking at the secondary characters in the story that travel with Jesus to the cross.

1. ASK God to be revealed to you through this passage; express your desire to experience God and ask that the Holy Spirit move within you and inspire you.

2. (RE)READ: Matthew 26:14- 27:66. Read it twice! (it’s long, I know, but totally worth it – this is THE STORY! This is our framing text for the whole week!). First time through: just read it at a normal pace. Second time: as you read through NOTICE which details make you scratch your head; NOTICE which parts draw your eyes and attention. You know that saying, "The devil is in the details"? Not true here. For this week especially, and in this passage, GOD is in the details. 

3. DO: Carve out some time today to meditate on these questions and on this passage. IMAGINE that you are one of the characters the scene. WONDER why is God bringing this to your attention? Be alert because God is speaking to us through this, through the people we meet, through beauty, through the mess, through tough situations facing us today, and through the unexpected. We may just meet one of these character-types from the story today.

**BONUS action: CLEAN something today (inbox, dorm room, closet, office, cabinet, etc). If we’re talking about making room this week for Jesus, perhaps cleaning out some physical cobwebs will, in the debris of our souls, make space for our imagination and let us hear/see the theophany through the cacophany.