My goodness. Dreams in scripture are a big deal. They’re all over the place in the Old and New Testaments…twenty-one of them to be exact,* not including various visions…and only one is reported by a woman.
The woman is, of course, Pontius Pilate’s wife. Remembered as a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church, she is also seen as a possible secret follower of Jesus in later non-biblical writings.
Had her dream been acted upon by Pilate, the course of religious history might have turned out very differently. Jesus would not have faced torture and death on the cross, the Last Supper would have been a pleasant event, and Jesus would have had years ahead of him to rustle this old world into better shape.
You remember the mob frenzy (which many churches will recreate this Sunday, as part of Palm Sunday events). Pilate throws the fate of Jesus and a common criminal named Barabbas to a crowd. “Who should I free?” Pilate asks. “Barabbas or Jesus?”
But before the crowd can respond, Pilate is handed a note from his wife.
“Have nothing to do with that innocent man,” it reads, “for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him!” Matthew 27:19
As the crowd shouts, Pilate shakes his head, ignoring her plea.
The crowd shouts, “Free Barabbas!”
“What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
“Let him be crucified!”
“Why, what evil has he done?”
The mob is unrelenting. “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Pilate, a coward, acts to satisfy the mob. Releasing Barabbas, he sentences Jesus to die. And thenhe washes his hands of the matter. Done, finished, time for lunch.
Let’s think about things here for a minute… How about this, Pilate? You might have tried something like this when your wife approached you.
“What’s that, dear? Tell me about your dream, for your instincts are usually excellent. God might be speaking to us; we should listen!”
But Pilate wasn’t a believer; he was a thug in politician’s clothes.
Perhaps her dream was God-inspired. Or perhaps she had watched Jesus from her window as he helped the blind to see and made the lame walk, and knew him to be a good and decent man. She said she had “suffered a great deal” because of her dream. Was she filled with fear and dread, knowing that God’s son was about to be murdered by her husband’s hand? Was she worried that she would be beaten for saying something? Did she fear Pilate would be charged in hell for killing Jesus? Did she think the people would revolt against Pilate if Jesus died?
We’ll never know what went through her mind. But we do know enough about other dreams in the Bible to know that, most likely, it was God speaking to her. Here are some other examples of dreams: God telling Joseph to go ahead and wed Mary even though she was pregnant before marriage (Matthew 1:18-24); God telling Joseph to leave Bethlehem for Egypt so Jesus would not be slaughtered, etc. (Matthew 2:13-15); Jacob seeing armies of angels descending and ascending by ladder from heaven (Genesis 28:12), etc.
Pilate’s wife did the right thing. She raised her voice. She spoke up. She said something in response to a dangerous situation. (Much like those signs at airports: “If you see something, say something!”)
We cannot control the outcome of everything we seek to influence. But we can raise our voices to report what is going on in our souls—whether our beliefs come from prayer, meditation, or dreams.
And that is what Pilate’s wife did. She told what was going on in her soul.
When I hear hear her story, I am reminded of a great phrase in the 1869 hymn, “Christ for the world we sing.” Here it is, at the end of the first stanza: “…sin sick and sorrow worn.”
By speaking out, her soul would not be “sin sick,” nor “sorrow worn.” She had released a great burden; she had opened a dark and troubled place in her soul to the light of Christ.
Pilate didn’t listen. But God and all of heaven heard. And God acted, through the resurrection, to right what had been done.
After Jesus was crucified, Pilate was reportedly banished to the south of France, where he committed suicide. But we trust that when the end came for his wife, she was received joyfully into God’s presence, ready to meet the One she had tried to save.
What are those hopes, dreams and God-inspired concepts that lie deep within you? What do you suffer from in your soul that you need to release? How might it be a loss for the world if you don’t speak up? How might it be a loss for you? If you need help in expressing such sorrow, is there someone you might consult?
What might we learn from Pilate’s wife?
Stand up for the innocent.
Do not hesitate to act against injustice.
Communicate with our families.
Pay attention to dreams and intuition, and to our inner lives.
Do not leave inspiration nor troubles locked in our souls; leave them in God’s hands instead.