For me, the answer is he probably did. Let me preface this by stating the obvious: I don’t actually know for sure what Jesus did. I don’t even want to get into the ‘did Jesus exist’ debate in this post. But if we take the New Testament at face-value (I don’t want to get into this debate either) it seems to me that he did meditate, or at least engage in contemplative-meditative practices.
I first came across the evidence for this after reading a short and wonderful book called God is Silence (originally Dieu est Silence) by Pierre Lacout. Pierre Lacout was born in France into a Catholic family, joined the Carmelite Order at a young age, later attended a Quaker Meeting in Switzerland, and then later still, he returned to his Catholic faith.
On page 36 he notes that ‘only a very patient and very attentive reader [of the bible] is allowed to see Jesus at prayer’. And it seemed that when Jesus prayed, he often did so on his own, in very secluded places and for many hours on end. Here are some examples:
‘Very early next morning he got up and went out. He went away to a lonely spot and remained there in prayer’
‘Jesus made the disciples embark and go ahead to the other side, while he sent the people away; after doing that, he went up the hillside to pray alone. It grew late and he was there by himself’
Mark 6:45-8 and Matthew 14:23.
In this above passage he stays there until the fourth watch of the night, which is about 3 o’ clock in the morning before walking on water to meet his disciples. Below, Luke summarises Jesus’s routine just prior to his crucifixion:
‘His days were given to teaching in the temple; and then he would leave the city and spend the night on the hill called Olivat. And in the early morning the people flocked to listen to him in the temple’
Luke 21: 37-8
So what was Jesus doing in these ‘lonely places’ for hours on end? Was he just so very greedy that it took him that long to get through his Christmas wish-list? Clearly not! Something else was going on here, and obviously what the gospels are referring to as prayer is not what we commonly think of as prayer. The fact that Jesus often prayed alone should not surprise us. Throughout his ministry, Jesus often instructed people he had healed not to speak about what he had done, and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus instructs us to pray alone, by ourselves, in secret (Matthew 6:6).
In the west, we associate meditation with Eastern traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s easy to forget that the word ‘meditation’ itself is a translation of a variety of words such as dhyana, bhavana, samatha, vipassana and jhana to name a few, and encompasses a whole variety of practices.
So, did Jesus meditate? Well I think he probably did, or at least his version of praying was very different from what the common notion of prayer is today. It involved being alone, in silence for extended periods of time. Sounds very much like meditation to me.