The Second Adam Did What the First Adam Rejected

ROSARY & ART: The First Sorrowful Mystery, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane

Carl Bloch, “Gethsemane,” 1873
Carl Bloch, “Gethsemane,” 1873 (photo: Public Domain)

(Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32-52; Luke 22:39-54; John 18:1-14)

Time assumes different dimensions among the four series of mysteries in the Rosary. The Joyful Mysteries cover events in the first 12 years of Jesus’ life, though they could be argued to include 30, since the finding in the Temple ends with the observation that Jesus was “obedient” to Mary and Joseph in the house in Nazareth, a period presumably extending to the beginning of his public ministry at age 30. The Luminous Mysteries focus on events from Jesus’ three-year public ministry, though the Eucharist remains a mystery for us. The Glorious Mysteries start with Easter but carry us into eternity.

The Sorrowful Mysteries, however, invite us to meditate on five events that transpired in less than the span of a day, i.e., from Holy Thursday evening until midafternoon on Good Friday. That day was, however, the most monumental in human history next to Easter. That last statement is not, however, completely accurate: Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection are one event, his inseparable and indivisible Paschal Mystery, no element of which makes sense without the others. That’s why the Church celebrates them as its “three great days,” the Great Paschal Triduum.

The day Christ died is the meditation grist of our Sorrowful Mysteries. The American writer Jim Bishop wrote a book by that name in 1957, subsequently reprinted, that treats Christ’s final 24 hours on an hour-by-hour semi-fictional (in the sense he embellishes the Gospels) basis. It’s still worth reading.

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After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It’s clear from the Gospels that this was one of his favorite refuges to do that, which is why the “place was known” to the Apostles, including Judas.

Among the Gospel writers, John does not name Gethsemane. He speaks of Jesus crossing the Kidron Valley to enter a “garden.” It’s not an unimportant omission.

Man’s descent into sin (which required God’s descent from heaven) began in a garden. In a garden, the first Adam refused God’s will. In a new garden, the Second Adam would pray, “Not my will, by thy will be done!” Sin entered human history in a garden; its eradication would start there. 

John, on the other hand, does not detail Jesus’ personal agony in that garden. The other Gospel writers do. Matthew tells us how Jesus went with his Apostles to that garden, left off nine of them, then went on with his inner circle — Peter, James and John — to pray. “Stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he went to pray.

John makes clear: “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him …” (18:4) is "sorrowful onto death” (Matthew 26:38). Luke, a physician, adds a unique detail: Jesus sweated blood (22:44). His is no literary device: there is a medical condition where extreme worry or fear results in breakage of capillaries, bathing sweat in blood. Matthew and Mark recount that Jesus returned from his prayers to that core Apostolic group — Peter, James and John — three times, only to find them asleep. 

In what was Jesus’ prayer? Luke tells us that he asks his Father to take the cup from him, “but not my will but thy will be done” (22:42). Jesus knew what awaited him. An old Catholic tradition also affirms he knew why. That tradition holds that Jesus foresaw all the sins of the world that would take him to the cross. We all can see the enormity of evil apparent in our own world. Can one imagine the crushing weight Jesus must have experienced in the conspiracy of all the world’s evil falling on his shoulders? 

“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43).

Was his Father indifferent to him? No. The Trinity, which ordained from eternity to save us, was fully aware that this was the final standoff, the deeds that were necessary to undo what man by his free will had done. When we speak of why God became man, the answer is clear in Gethsemane: because the sheer weight, force, and extent of evil released by sin, the sheer impoverishment of being, could not be undone by a mere man, though a man had to do it. What man had unleashed was beyond his capacity to reverse, even if his wounded nature might incline him toward that. God intended to fix what was wrong with man, but there could be no other cure.

Jesus is alone. His Apostles are sleeping. Only an angel supports him. And while he knows his Father would never abandon him, the sinless Christ nevertheless wills to feel what sinful man experiences: the absence and abandonment of God. We speak of the modern plague of loneliness. Was there ever a lonelier human being than that man in Gethsemane?

And if mere loneliness was not enough, the hoard descending to arrest him is outfitted with “swords and clubs,” the ancient equivalent of a SWAT team on a mission to seize a terrorist. And it is led by one of his own Apostles, who will identify the target by a kiss!

Our meditations on Gethsemane should be two:

The utter loneliness of Christ under the imponderable weight of the history of human evil — past, present and to come — for which he, as sinless Lamb of God, bears for all men: those who will avail themselves of his loving grace and those who would throw it back in his face, perhaps even with a Judas kiss.
The awareness of what sin has and does cost. Because, unlike Christ in Gethsemane, when we choose that my will over thy will be done, we contribute to that cost. Sin — evil — may be the absence of being and good, but that doesn’t make it any less real. When we contemplate what restoring what ought to be there in humanity, we come to understand the reality and true malice of evil.

The First Sorrowful Mystery is depicted in art by the Danish painter, Carl Bloch. “An Angel Comforting Jesus Before his Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane” dates from 1873 and is held by Denmark’s Museum of National History.

I chose this painting because it accentuates the sheer aloneness of Jesus Christ at that pivotal moment. But for supernatural light and assistance, exemplified by the angel, Jesus is alone. The background is black, what the Christmas carol calls a “gathering gloom,” pointing to the encroachment of sin. The tree appears practically dead: only some leaves are seen in the darkness. The ground is rocky. Jesus is already in red, pointing to his Passion, and already bathed in sweat. 

But his hands are folded in prayer. He will follow his Father’s will. The Second Adam will do what the first Adam rejected. The reign of sin ends. Now. 

“Rise! Let us go!” (Matthew 26:46). Those are not just words to his sleeping disciples. They are Jesus’ own resolution. With his Father, he will rise and go forward to put an end to the horror that created this night. 

Our only response can be one of absolute gratitude.