The Passion and the Rosary

Let's pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. First, if you haven’t already, please read this post on the three temptations.

FIRST MYSTERY: THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN

The story of mankind began in a garden.

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Gn 2:7-8)

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Gn 2:15)

God breathed His own life into Adam, which is grace – the sharing of God’s Life and God’s nature with Adam. Adam then participated in the Life of God; theologians call Adam’s situation original justice. God put Adam in a garden that He made for him. Gardens are important in Scripture, because they represent paradise; the Garden of Eden represents Adam’s life in paradise, his union with God. In OT times, gardens were normally hedged in with either a wall or a hedge of bushes. Adam was to till the garden – that is, to ensure it maintained its fertile life, as we must always tend to the divine life in our souls – and to “keep” it – that is, to guard it, protect it; our spiritual life is a thing to be protected. Adam failed in his assignment; the serpent entered into the garden and through the serpent and his trinitarian temptation, sin entered the world, and with sin came death. So Adam was expelled from paradise.

The LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gn 3:23-24)

We now move to the garden at Gethsemane, where Jesus’ passion began. We remember that the suffering Jesus endured was on our behalf, for our sins. Jesus knew He was to die; God Who is Life itself, was approaching His existential antithesis: death. You and I will die someday and we know it; we fear it, but our fear of death is natural. When Life Himself subjects Himself to death, we can imagine the fear, the horror is far greater; the anxiety of such is well described as an agony.

And when he came to the place he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling upon the ground. (Lk 22:40-44)

Note how He begins this event with an admonishment to prayer, to avoid temptation. We should immediately remember the threefold temptation as old as Eden that Jesus now begins to remedy; we should compare this garden in Gethsemane with that garden of Eden. Jesus Himself is tempted here and He begs His Father to relieve Him of this terrible work, His own “tilling and keeping.” But, unlike Adam, Jesus will accomplish His work, regardless of the price He must pay. His sweat is as blood; recall the punishment of Adam was that growing food will require “the sweat of his face.” Jesus is now taking on the curse, by the work of His Precious Blood. Notice the angel strengthening Him, unlike the cherubim sent to drive Adam out of Eden and keep him out. Notice his sweat fall upon the ground, the same ground that God cursed in Eden, the ground from which Adam came when God breathed on it.

But what of the temptations? Where is “the Unholy Three?”

Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done." And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (Mt 26:38-45)

Jesus took three of His disciples into the garden with Him. He asked them to watch with Him; as Luke put it, He asked them to pray to avoid temptation. What did they do instead? They fell asleep on that cursed ground; their sleep represents death, the lack of prayer represents their failure to guard themselves against temptations. Note Jesus found them sleeping three times, representing the three temptations. Jesus must pay the price for each of these three, legendary temptations.

SECOND MYSTERY: THE SCOURGING AT THE PILLAR

Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. (Jn 19:1)

Here, Jesus accepts the curse from sins we committed under the temptation of physical pleasure: lust and the host of related desires. These are temptations to over-satisfy the body’s desire for pleasure; in contrast, Jesus subjects His body to pain.

THIRD MYSTERY: THE CROWNING WITH THORNS

And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands. (Jn 19:2-3)

Here, Jesus accepts the sins we committed under the temptation to power, to exert our wills over others. The image of a king is the icon of such power, so Jesus is mocked as a king, with a crown and a purple robe. They subject him to humiliation and subject His will under their own. Note the crown is made of thorns to remember the curse of Adam: “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you.” (Gn 3:17-18)

FOURTH MYSTERY: THE CARRYING OF THE CROSS

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. (Jn 19:17)

Jesus must carry His cross on His back as He walks the path from Pilate’s judgement seat to Golgotha. Avarice is the over-accumulation of wealth, the desire to have and to own things. Scripture sometimes refers to such accumulated wealth as a burden to be carried, as Jesus takes on the curse of this burden, where His burden is a cross – the price He will pay for our own greed. Note the mention of Golgotha – the place of the skull, that is the legendary location of Adam’s skull, the progenitor of sin.

[As an example of wealth carried as a burden:

Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mt 19:21-24)

A camel cannot go through the eye of a needle; therefore a rich man cannot enter heaven. Is that really true? All rich men go to hell? Doubtful. A common understanding is that “the eye of the needle” was the name of the merchant’s gate in the walled city of Jerusalem. There were many gates and this one was used by merchants bringing their wares on the backs of camels. If there were too many bundles on the camel’s back, the camel could not fit through the small gate; so, some of the excess bundles had to come off – then the camel could fit under the gate . Likewise we must remove excess wealth from our own backs.]

FIFTH MYSTERY: THE CRUCIFIXION

There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. (Jn 19:18)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. (Mk 15:37)

Having taken on the curse for our sins, one by one, through the torture He endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers, Jesus takes on that final curse: He dies. As Adam was born when God breathed into the dust, so God now dies exhaling that same breath. This is the final curse, where the Author of Life encounters death. Jesus has fulfilled all.

What then? If the work of redemption has been accomplished, then the world is now free of the curse. It seems like something should happen to announce or at least symbolize this new world.

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth--that you also may believe. (Jn 19:34-35)

This line is curious, because John’s Gospel recounts several amazing miracles of Jesus. Yet, his comments here imply this outflow of blood & water from Jesus’ side is the most remarkable thing of all. Why? As usual, it reminds us of something that happened in the OT, in the Garden of Eden in fact.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gn 2:21-22)

The Fathers of the Church had no trouble recognizing the analogy. The first Adam fell asleep and God opened his side, from which his bride was born. So the side of the second Adam, asleep on the cross, was also opened, from which His bride – the Church – was born in those two sacramental signs of blood and water. Interestingly, God – Who had assumed the primeval curse - breathed from the cross and the Church was born; again, similar to how God breathed at the dawn of time and humankind was born.

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. (Jn 19:41)

Jesus’ body is then placed in a tomb. Again, it is in a garden, a reminder that paradise has been restored, because it is no longer Adam who is entrusted “to till it and keep it,” it is God Himself who has entered the garden and will tend it. The new tomb where no one had ever lain is symbolic that in this paradise death has no place, the tombs are empty.