Rev. Douglas Leonhardt, SJ, describes gospel contemplation in the Ignatian tradition as a “form of prayer in which one uses his or her senses in an imaginative way to reflect on a Gospel passage.” Using our imagination in this way “helps make the Gospel scene real and alive.” As we begin this Holy Week, I invite you to join me in an imaginative journey through the two Gospel readings we hear proclaimed today. Focusing on our sense of sight, let us imagine what Jesus might have seen as he walked toward his Passion.
What did that young colt look like, the one Jesus sent his disciples to fetch so he could navigate the crowds that were pressing upon him from every direction? Was it a grey-brown colour, doe-eyed, with extra-long eyelashes? Did it seem a little bewildered as it was called upon to bear Jesus through the throngs of people? How did its hooves navigate the stony paths covered with cloaks? Did Jesus see a beast frightened by the jostling crowds?
What about those crowds? What did Jesus see when he looked upon them singing “Hosanna” and straining for a view? Did he see excited children and worried mothers? Zealous disciples and furious Pharisees? Sun glittering off the sweaty brows of people standing in the midday sun, hands of all shapes and sizes reaching up to touch him?
What clues told Jesus that the crowds could just as easily throw stones? It must have been the little things, the sideways glances between the priests and Pharisees, the nervous hand gripping an exuberant teenager, the heartfelt joy mirrored on the face of a leper he had once cured, joy that could not be stifled.
Then a few days later the table was set for the Passover meal, the ritual remembrance of God’s liberating action in the history of the Israelites. The tablecloth was pressed for the occasion, wine poured in clay goblets, the unleavened bread ready to be broken and shared. As dusk set in, the candles were lit, their flickering light exposing the tension on the disciples’ faces. Who was the greatest? Who was the bravest? Who would betray? Judas’ hand was shaking as he reached for the bread . . .
Now the sun is setting behind the Mount of Olives. Does Jesus notice anything here or is he overcome with his own dread of what is sure to come? His friends, maybe, can help him through this dark time but, no, they’re fast asleep.
Things move quickly now. The crowd, led by Judas, comes upon them. The sword glints in the moonlight as it cuts off the slave’s ear. Jesus’ hand is covered in blood as he reaches up to heal him. The soldier’s hands are rough and calloused as they clasp Jesus by the shoulders and lead him away.
The cock is busy minding its own business, pecking at seeds in the courtyard, while the people are warming themselves by the night fires. It’s dark and chilly now, not quite time to sound the dawn alarm. Peter is waving his hands, adamant that he does not know the Galilean prisoner. When the cock crows, Peter’s countenance drops. He realizes what he’s done.
Purple cloaks and crowns of thorns, mocking faces of soldiers who are just doing their job. The dead eyes of Pilate and Herod as they play their political games. The look of confusion mixed with compassion in the eyes of Simon the Cyrene, an innocent bystander conscripted to help with an execution. The tear-stained cheeks of the women who follow Jesus on his way to Calvary.
It’s done. Jesus is hanging on the cross, struggling for breath. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see the two other prisoners. One is still mocking him, the other believes. “Today you will be with me in Paradise . . .” Life fades and the scene goes dark.
On Divine Mercy Sunday in 2013, Pope Francis called us to remember Peter who, after his betrayal, “meets the gaze of Jesus, who patiently, wordlessly, says to him: ‘Peter, don’t be afraid of your weakness; trust in me.’ Peter understands, he feels the loving gaze of Jesus, and he weeps.”
We don’t really know what Jesus saw in those final days leading up to his Passion. What we do know is that his eyes were full of compassion for our broken humanity, calling us not to be afraid of our weakness but to trust in his mercy. For his compassion breaks all bounds and proclaims that sin and death cannot prevail. So we begin this Holy Week with the end in mind, rejoicing in the mystery of a God who sees all of our humanity and loves us anyway.
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.