Randomly opening the Bible seeking answers for issues that perplex us is not considered wise use of scripture—but I do it intentionally at times, and sometimes it just happens. R. C. Sproul in his book Knowing Scripture calls it “luckydipping.” Okay, admit it, you’ve done it too.
Anyway, several times in this season of Advent, I’ve serendipitously opened the Good News up to passages having to do with the other end of The Story—the Crucifixion. Now our association with myrrh is usually that of it being one of the three gifts of the Wise Men for the newborn King, Jesus. It was an extremely valuable spice, and being one of the gifts of the Magi is most likely our only association with myrrh. But it is also a mild narcotic when mixed with wine; bear with me on this.
And what’s up with Pilate’s wife? She is only mentioned once in scripture, in the Gospel of Matthew (27:19): “While Pilate was sitting on the judges seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with this innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’ ” Now I know I’ve read that verse several times before but for some odd reason this time it really struck me–perhaps, because I felt like the Holy Spirit was trying to show me something. So I did a bit of research on Mrs. Pilate. She has two names in church tradition—Claudia or Procula—take your pick. The Roman Catholic Church even made her a saint: Saint Procula. No doubt, the Patron Saint of Proctologists. Sorry, sometimes I can’t help myself. As with anything scriptural there have been tons of commentary and speculation on this unfortunate woman and in her role in The Story. Now there is a theological doctrine called “the sufficiency of scripture” that says if it’s in the Book it’s there for a good reason. I thoroughly believe that but I still don’t know the big Why of Pilate’s wife and her dream.
Mark’s Gospel predates Matthew’s, and some believe that the other synoptic gospels were based on Mark, but Mark doesn’t mention Pilate’s wife and her dream. Perhaps, Matthew just threw this detail in because he could. But I don’t think so. I think it’s there for a reason but I haven’t ferreted it out to my satisfaction as yet. But I gotta admit, it is a juicy detail, and it creates a sense of mystery that I love: “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet). And maybe the Holy Spirit is just sayin’: “Fall in love with the Gospel again, Carl!”
Okay, back to myrrh being a mild pain-killer. Before the act of crucifixion begins, the Roman soldiers offer Jesus a drink—wine mixed with gall—as it says in most versions. This always perplexed me. I associate gall with bile from our gall bladder. An odd thing to offer anyone under any circumstance. And Jesus refuses this cup. Who wouldn’t?
But in fact what He was most likely offered was wine mixed with myrrh. This was a mild painkiller and sedative and the Roman soldiers on the crucifixion detail typically offered it to those they were about to execute. Why? No, not because they were kind, but because it made their job easier—those about to be executed wouldn’t struggle as much. Jesus refused the painkiller. Folks, is there a message there for us? We who generally spend every waking moment trying to avoid pain in one way or another–usually thru our addictions, but sometimes just by running like mad away from that which we think might cause pain.
I’ve been reading a book by Tullian Tchividjian Glorious Ruin that kind of says it’s really all about the pain—life, that is. Everybody suffers it in one way or another and we can’t escape it. Sometimes it’s the sufferings of Job, and sometimes its just an idle, unkind remark that ruins our day…that ruins our week…that ruins our life. The bottom line in what Tchividjian is saying is that its thru suffering and pain that God smashes our idols and then draws us to Him. Every idol causes pain whether it’s a real narcotic like heroin or the narcotics of approval, or money, or power over others. They all get in the way of attending to and loving our Creator, and the First Commandment is “You shall have no other Gods before me.”
The offer of myrrh at the end of Jesus’ earthly story lends a wonderful symmetry to scripture—it’s there at the beginning and it’s there again at the end—sort of like the Tree of Life. But at the end it is also another satanic temptation, and one, BTW, that I fail to mention in my books on Satan, temptation and spiritual warfare. And His refusal to take the narcotic–His willingness to endure it all for us–causes me to fall in love with Jesus all over again.
So what does myrrh have to do with Mrs. Pilate, you ask? Nothing that I can think of right off hand–but have a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR anyway.