Pilate's Wife, Part 3
Six years had passed since Pilate sold
His soul for Caesar's praise, and told
The crowds, "I find no fault in this
Strange man, and therefore I dismiss
My right to kill, and I retire
From petty quarrels. Do your desire,
Jerusalem, I take no side,
Let him be flogged and crucified."
The contradictions of his mind
Had multiplied, and now, more blind
Than ever to his madness, he
Was driven, like a raging sea,
To swallow up the Jewish race
With hate, who threatened to disgrace
His rule as treacherous before
The emperor. It wasn't more
Than two months after Pilate dipped
His hands in royal water, ripped
The truth in shreds, and mocked his wife,
That by his foolishness fresh strife
Had filled the city. Pilate set
Five famous shields - a silhouette
On each of Caesar - in the court
Of Herod's palace for the sport
Of seeing Jewish purists rage.
And then, as if there were no sage
Among his many counselors,
To aggravate the Jews, the stores
Of treasured offerings that filled
The Temple vault, he took to build
A Roman viaduct, and set
The city in a roar. He let
The frenzy gather force, then just
When crowds crossed into mobs, he thrust
His Roman power brutally,
And cut the branch of mutiny.
But not the root.
At last, six years
From when he doomed the Christ, his fears
Were filled, and he was ousted by
Vitellius, the Roman high
Command based in the region of
Samaria. For there, above
The Jordan plains high in the Mount
Called Gerizim - so the account
That reached the Roman legate in
The town of Shechem went - a thin
And wild-eyed prophet, crying from
The eastern wilderness, had come
And gathered thousands in the hills
With his apocalyptic skills.
And Pilate saw another chance
To strike the Jews and to enhance
His reputation with the head
Of Rome. His soldiers left for dead
A thousand simple people on
The hills of Gerizim. And dawn
Brought down the wrath of Rome. How wrong
Was Pilate to assume that long
And hostile conflict with the Jews
Was how a petty ruler woos
The tribute of Vitellius.
Such blindness bred by hate! And thus
The Procurator Pilate fell
From his small height, and found the spell
He thought he cast ten years, now chained
Around his neck. What pride remained
Gave him the nerve to make appeal
To Rome. And so with charge and seal,
And ten sad years of discontent
And crime, to Caesar he was sent.
For six years Pilate's wife held fast
To Christ. She knew that he had passed
From death to life, and that the skin,
Which once had torn and bloody been,
Was raised in glory from the dead.
She spoke with him upon her bed
As Pilate fitful lay beside
Her through the night. She often cried
Herself to sleep with prayers that Christ
Would keep her true and unenticed
From better men. She wept for all
The Jews that he had killed, the fall
Of every woman, man and child,
And would have died when he reviled
The Lord, except that Jesus came
Each time, and by his word and name,
Embraced her heaving soul and fed
Her hungry heart with truth and said,
"I made and rule the world dear one,
And all my perfect plans are done.
I do not call you slave but friend;
I will be with you to the end.
And not one vow that I have made
Will waver or remain unpaid."
With this before her ev'ry day
She kept her covenant to stay
With Pilate and his loveless sin
Till death; and be his wife, and win,
She hoped and prayed, his twisted mind,
And hateful heart, and eyes so blind
They could not tell the difference
Between the night and day.
The women used to say, "is there
In living with this man? We dare
You, Claudia, though he be rich
And powerful, there is no hitch
Unbreakable, and this one has
Been broken just as surely as
The man has failed in ev'ry vow
He made. You are not bound to plow
For this man like a heifer now,
Nor lie beneath him like a sow
To satisfy the lust of swine.
No Roman law has this design,
Nor any Jewish ordinance,
That you should keep your vow. So whence
This foolish faithfulness that keeps
You in the bed where Pilate sleeps?"
And Claudia would answer them,
"O women of Jerusalem,
You speak as if there were no God.
As if there were no tender rod
To comfort me and lead me through
The darkest valley of my few
And painful years, as if there's not
Nor should be higher aims than what
You've dreamed for man and wife, as if
The path were safe nor any cliff
Be close or any bitter wind
Be in my face, nor I be sinned
Against, or feel this constant grief
So long, my death would be relief.
How many women do you give
Such shallow counsel? As I live,
O, women of Jerusalem
Who counsel thus, I pity them.
As for myself, there is one love,
One covenant, one vow above
All married bliss or pain, and I
Once held the bloody price on my
Own lap, and heard him, dying, say
To me enough to show the way
A covenant is kept. Now go,
And learn what God designs to show
When Pilate crucifies his wife
And she is faithful all her life."
"Tomorrow I will leave for Rome,"
He said, "And you may stay at home."
"I want to go along," she said.
"What, do you want to see the head
Of Pilate on a platter in
The Roman court? Do you begin
To dream of my complete demise
In Rome and there to find a prize
When I am gone?" She listened, then
She said, "I would be present when,
And if, they take your life, and I
Would gladly hold your head on my
Own lap, not on a platter in
The Roman court. It's never been
Once in my mind to profit through
Your death. But I have reason to
Believe that you will gain far more
In Rome than some new, brutal corps
Of soldiers to command. May I
Please come with you?" Not knowing why,
He gave consent. "Tomorrow we
Will reach the coast, and then by sea
Make journey to the Roman court,
And there Tiberius exhort
To overturn the ruling of
Vitellius, and put above
That legate all his royal pow'r.
Then we will stand and watch him cow'r."
Before they reached the western side
Of Rome, Tiberius had died.
Caligula ruled in his place,
A madman who once set his face
T'ward Spain, and made his soldiers fill
With seashells all their helmets till
The boats were full. Then he proclaimed
A triumph over Neptune, shamed
By mortal man, brought to his knees,
Though he be great, the god of seas.
Caligula had set a snare
At ports and every thoroughfare
To Rome, lest any chief or shrewd
Pretender to his pow'r intrude
And threaten his authority.
So Pilate, without bond or plea,
Was seized at Puteoli when
His ship put in, and Caesar's men
With bludgeons boarded it and took
The Procurator bound with hook
And leather cord, then paused and said,
With threat'ning voice, "Is any led
By this man here? Is anyone
A faithful subject to this son
Of Caesar's wrath? Is any man
Or woman here a fool, a fan
Of Pontius Pilate. Speak if you
Are loyal to the man. Be true
And perish with your little king."
The servants all stood shuddering
And looking at the deck. "I am."
The voice was Claudia's. "What, Ma'am?"
The soldier asked, amazed. "I said,
I am. You asked, 'Is any led
By him? Is any loyal to
This king?' I am." He grinned, "Then you
Shall go and die with him." They bound
Her at his side and put around
Their throbbing wrists a single cord
And led them under chain and sword
To wait the whim of Caesar for
And there on dungeon floor,
In stench and darkness Pilate spoke,
"You didn't have to bear this yoke.
You could be free - from prison and
From me. Why did you speak, and stand
There fearless like a queen?" "Because
I'm married to a king." The pause
That followed lengthened into hours
And Pilate pondered all his pow'rs
Compared to hers. Then quietly
At first, the end of cruelty
Ran down his craggy face in tears,
And then the cold and loveless years
With Claudia broke open like
A flood, and through the shattered dike
Of pride, with shaking sobs, there flowed
A reservoir of hate, the load
And weight of joyless arrogance,
Until the stones were wet. Then once
He caught his breath, he said,
"I'm sorry, Claudia." He fled
Back on the wings of memory
Six years and saw her tenderly
Lay Jesus' bloody head again
Upon the palace floor, and then
Ascend the stairs. And so once more
He asked, "When he was on the floor,
What did he say, the one whose head
Lay in your lap, the Christ?" "He said,
'No, Claudia, you may not kiss
Me now. It is not pure. Save this
For him, and love him as I love
You now. One covenant above
All others here I make with you
Today, and show you what a true
And faithful marriage is, and how
Till death, to keep a sacred vow.
You think you've lost your husband and
Your Lord? Not even death can stand
Against my Father's pow'r. Now go,
And learn what God designs to show
When Pilate crucifies his wife
And she is faithful all her life.
Go, Claudia, and keep your troth.
Remember, I have made an oath.'"
The dungeon door groaned, opening,
And Pilate heard a voice, "The king
Is eager for a head of state.
Is Pilate ready for the date?"
They stood together and embraced,
The first unhurried love, and chaste,
That they had known for twenty years.
She looked into his eyes through tears,
And saw them deep as ocean caves.
"Dear Claudia," he said, "the graves
Where I have lived, and caused your pains
Are gone. And only one remains.
I yield to this. You sacrificed
Your life. And I have seen the Christ.
I know now what our marriage meant.
Farewell, your life has been well spent."
O blazing candle three, come shine
Your burning light on God's design
For grief and pain in holding fast
The covenant. And prove how vast
The power of such faithfulness
To show the suffering Christ, and bless
The married blind until they see
What married love was meant to be,
When they have learned to keep their troth,
And measure love by blood and oath.