Gospel Contemplation: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the Text
This passage is taken from the Gospel of Matthew, rather than the Gospel of John (which we've been immersed in for much of this Lenten season). In the Palm Sunday liturgy, it is read at the beginning of Mass, before the procession with palms. The Gospel during Mass itself is the account of Jesus' passion according to Matthew -- we won't hear John's version until Good Friday. The closing lines of Matthew's account of Jesus's entry into Jerusalem echo scenes we've been reading from John's Gospel -- the "whole city" asks, "Who is this?" -- much like each of the gospel passages of the last few weeks have explored the question of Jesus' identity. Here the crowd affirms that Jesus is a prophet (and therefore acknowledges that he is one sent by God). Unlike the gospel reading from the past few weeks, Jesus does not clarify his identity at this moment.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for whatever you need at this time during this prayer period. If you can’t think of anything, ask that Jesus bring you to deeper faith in him.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Imagine that you are in the city of Jerusalem. It doesn’t have to be accurate, you don’t have to know what Jerusalem looks like, then or now. You are in a city and it is Jerusalem. What is it like? As you wander the streets, what do you see? Are there markets, houses, places where people work? Are the streets narrow or wide? Straight or winding? Imagine the day – the weather is clear, and is there a breeze? What noises do you hear in this city? What smells?
[Pause to use all of your senses to see yourself in this city]
As you walk the streets near the city limits, you see that a crowd has begun to form. There’s a lot of noise, and you walk closer to see what’s going on.
You see the road into the city – people have covered it with their cloaks and palm branches. Others are waving palm branches as a sort of procession moves down the road into the city.
Straining to see, you realize that it’s a man riding a donkey. And as he comes closer, you see that it is Jesus – and the crowd is greeting him like a great prophet! You know him – you’ve heard him preach, seen him heal, and have actually spoken to him yourself a few times over the past few weeks. You’ve been there when others have questioned his authority. When you see him now, entering the city to cheers – what is that like? How do you feel?
What do you feel moved to do – try and get closer to him, or talk with others in the crowd about what’s going on? What do you do?
As he enters the city and the crowds become to thick for him to continue to ride, Jesus dismounts to walk to his final destination. If he hasn’t already, Jesus spots you in the crowd. He calls you over to walk with him. What does he say to you? How do you respond?
Spend the next few moments with him, telling him about what you felt and experienced as he came into the city. Let your imagination unfold as it may and listen for Jesus’ response.
And when you are ready, close with your favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?