“Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate”: The Fourth Commandment and the Creed

Though my feet stay on a fairly straight path when I run, my mind races about as a four-year-old in a room strewn with toys. This morning, in the middle of its helter-skelter meanderings, it landed in the middle of the Apostolic Creed, specifically on the words, ”born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” And there, quite unexpectedly, it leapt to the fourth commandment, ”Honor your father and your mother.” For in the midst of this creed, in the persons of Mary and Pilate, we see the vocation of parent lived honorably and dishonorably, a faithful model worthy of emulation and a faithless example warning of failure.

When the angel told Mary she had become a mother, she replied simply, ”Let it be to me according to your word.” Therein is a grateful acknowledgment that the Creator had formed life in her womb. Her child was more than a mass of cells; he was even more than a human being; he was a divine gift. And so is every child, no matter whether the mother is wed or unwed, healthy or an addict, a pastor’s wife or a pimp’s whore. The foundational confession of every father and mother who seek not only to be honored as a parent but to parent honorably is that their child comes from God, as Mary herself believed.

Even as the life of our Lord began inside an honorable mother, so it ended under a dishonorable father. For Jesus ”suffered under Pontius Pilate”, who was a father of the state, one whose greatest concern was his own skin. He shirked his paternal responsibility to uphold justice, pursue truth, and protect the innocent. As a father cares for his sons and daughters, sacrificing his own interests for the better good of those under his charge, so Pilate was to care for the citizenry. Instead, he washed his hands of this duty, letting mob rule mock justice, and skulked away, a father betraying his family.

In the life of Jesus, from his birth to an honorable mother, to his suffering under a dishonorable father, our heavenly Father was at work to reconcile us to himself. Both faithful Mary and faithless Pilate are part of his plan, for he uses the weak and the strong, the just and the unjust, to lead his Son through all stages of human life, and into death itself, that he might fully save us. For Jesus became all that we are, that we might become all that he is. He was ”born of the Virgin Mary,” to make us children of our mother, the church, and ”suffered under Pontius Pilate,” to make us sons and daughters of his own Father.

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