The basis of life is love: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mk. 12:30-31). Because of our sinfulness, none of us is capable of loving God and our neighbors in such a complete and perfect manner. Only Jesus Christ truly loved everyone, even His enemies.
His infinite love was evidenced in His every word and deed. Being the only-begotten Son of God and God Himself, Jesus Christ in His pity for us came down from Heaven and was incarnate, becoming in everything the same as us, except in sin. Being the Sovereign Heavenly King, before Whom all Angels and creatures tremble, He deigned to take on the image of an ordinary person, to restore our corrupted nature. While possessing all the treasures of the world, He agreed to be born in poverty, lying in a manger in a dark cave.
Being the supreme Lawgiver, Jesus Christ during His earthly life humbly submitted to all the decrees and commandments of the Jewish religious law. Thus, on the eighth day after His birth, He submitted to circumcision, and on the fortieth day His Mother brought Him into the temple and there paid the redemption fee for Him, the Ruler of the Universe. As was fitting for a boy and then later a youth, He always obeyed His earthly Mother and helped His foster father, the elderly Joseph. Once mature, He treated the Jewish elders and leaders with respect, as well as the Roman governors, and paid the required taxes. He willingly lived in poverty and often, while travelling to preach, had no place to rest His head. Christ, to Whom all nature submits, Himself served people and even washed the feet of His disciples, who were uneducated fishermen.
Jesus Christ constantly prayed to His Heavenly Father, even at night when the others were asleep. On Sabbath days at a synagogue, He took part in the communal prayers and the reading of the Scriptures, and on the major feast days He made pilgrimages to the temple at Jerusalem.
With all His love and diligence Jesus fulfilled that commission for which His Heavenly Father sent Him, directing everything toward His Father’s glory. He felt pity for all people, especially for the poor and underprivileged, wished well to everyone, and was willing to bear anything in order to ease their suffering. He bore all conceivable affronts and insults from the ungrateful crowd with the greatest meekness, and did not vent His anger on those who slandered Him and plotted intrigues against Him. Some who bore Christ ill-will called Him a sinner and lawbreaker; others called Him a carpenter’s son and a shallow person; still others said He was a friend of drunkards and sinners. On several occasions Christ’s enemies attempted to stone Him or toss Him from a mountaintop. Jewish scribes called His divine teachings deceitful; and when He healed the sick, raised the dead, or exorcised demons, they explained away these miracles as the deeds of an evil spirit. Some even openly called Him possessed. The Lord Jesus, being Almighty God, could have destroyed them all with one word. Instead, He pitied them as spiritually blind and prayed for their welfare and for their salvation.
In brief, from His early youth till His very death, Jesus Christ constantly did good to all people, even when, instead of being grateful to Him, they caused Him anguish and pain. He was especially hated by the Jewish elders, high priests, and scribes — whose mission it was to teach the people goodness and to lead them toward faith. They worked with all their might to keep the people from believing in Jesus as the God-sent Messiah, distorting the meaning of the prophecies that predicted His coming. They contradicted all that He said or did. Jesus did not grieve so much that the Jewish leaders fought against Him as He did from the fact that they were rushing blindly toward doom, taking the simple people along with them.
Not long before His death, Jesus worked His greatest miracle: He resurrected Lazarus, who had already been in the grave for four days and whose body had started to decompose. This miracle took place in the presence of a great crowd and made an overwhelming impression on them all. After this miracle, many of the unbelieving Jews started to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. But the high priests and the scribes, being envious of His fame, hastily gathered and decided to put Christ to death without delay, together with Lazarus whom He had resurrected.
Knowing that the days of His earthly life were drawing to an end, Christ gathered his disciples in a room near Mount Zion for the mystical last supper. Here He instituted the Mystery of Holy Communion and gave His last commandments to the disciples. After that He went to the garden of Gethsemane, where He experienced His most agonizing inner sufferings. The anguish was so great that during prayer the sweat on His face became a sweat of blood. At that moment the soul of the Savior was immersed into a terrible darkness and horror at the unbearable sins which He was taking upon Himself. Jesus knew that he had to wash away with His most Holy blood all the countless transgressions of billions of people, beginning with Adam and including all future generations. Overwhelmed by the oppression of the world’s evil, Jesus Christ exclaimed: "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death" (Matt. 26:38).
No one can truly comprehend what the pure soul of the God-man experienced in the garden of Gethsemane. You can imagine, however, that all the loathsome sins of mankind were revealed to Him in all their ugliness and that the pure soul of the God-man was shocked and depressed by this terrible sight. Christ knew that His great sufferings and boundless love would be appreciated by only a few, that the majority of the people would turn away from Him with indifference, and that some would reject His teachings and would cruelly persecute those who believed in Him. He foresaw that among His followers there would be many hypocrites who would turn faith into a means for profit and that there would be false teachers and false prophets who would distort His teachings and who, because of pride and greed, would entice the faithful into harmful sects. He foresaw that false pastors would appear, who, because of ambition, would create schisms in the Church. Christ knew not only that many Christians would fail to love God and live righteously but also that they would give themselves to heinous crimes and vices, so that by their sins they would even surpass pagans, and as a result the Christian faith would be scandalized.
In these most trying sufferings, while justice and loyalty to His Father demanded from Christ that He destroy mankind as ungrateful and criminal, the feelings of pity and sorrow ultimately stirred Him to accept all sufferings and death itself to save us sinners from the power of the devil and from eternal damnation.
While Jesus was still praying, a mob with torches and clubs, along with some soldiers who were sent by the Jewish elders, came into the garden. They bound Him and dragged Him, as they would an evildoer, to the high priest for trial. The Apostles, whom He loved so much and brought so close to Himself, faintheartedly left Him and fled. Then the leaders and all the Sanhedrin quickly assembled at the home of the high priest, where they brought a multitude of the most ridiculous accusations against Christ. None of these, however, was enough to warrant a sentence of death. The high priest demanded that Jesus, while He was under oath, state whether or not He was the promised Messiah, the Son of God. After He affirmed that He was, the Sanhedrin accused Him of blasphemy and sentenced Him to death. After this, the members of the council, unable to hold back their hatred of Jesus any longer, surrounded Him and subjected Him to beatings and all kinds of insults.
The Romans, however, had deprived the Sanhedrin of the power to execute anyone. So, the next morning, on Friday, the day before the Passover, the Jewish leaders brought Jesus Christ to a new trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, hoping that Pilate would affirm their decision. Pilate, realizing that they were accusing Christ out of envy, wanted to let Him go. But the high priests and elders threatened that they would complain about him to the Roman emperor. Not wishing to jeopardize his career, Pilate decided to address the people who had gathered there. Reminding the people of the custom to free some prisoner on the eve of the Passover holiday, Pilate asked them which of the two they would want him to set free: Barabbas or Christ (Barabbas was a robber who had been imprisoned for some crime). While the mob of people were talking among themselves, the Jewish leaders convinced them to ask for Barabbas’ release and to demand that Christ be crucified on the cross.
The people forgot the innumerable good deeds of Christ: from how many of them He had exorcised demons, how many He had healed of leprosy, blindness, weakness and other incurable diseases, how many He had turned from debauchery to the path of goodness, and to how many of the despairing He had returned hope.
The Roman soldiers submitted the Lord to scourging and cursing. Finally they placed on Him a purple cloak and on His head a crown of thorns. Pilate then brought out the wounded Christ, hoping the people would feel pity and ask for His release. Instead they began to shout, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" On hearing this, Pilate decided to give up. He halfheartedly washed his hands as a sign of non-participation in the conviction of an innocent man, ordered the release of Barabbas, and handed Christ over to the Jewish leaders for them to dispose of.
The soldiers gave Christ the wooden cross on which He was to be crucified and ordered Him to carry it to the execution site, known as Golgotha (meaning "place of the skull"). There they removed His outer clothing and nailed Him to the cross. Two robbers, one on either side, were crucified with Him. Thus, in the most humiliating circumstances, as if He were a great criminal, they executed the One Who with the divine light dispelled the darkness of fallacies and Who with His boundless love defeated hate! Dear God! How cruel and blind people can be!
But those who hated Christ could not satisfy their hatred. Even on the dying Sufferer they piled more curses and with sneers demanded a miracle. When He asked for water to quench His thirst, they gave Him vinegar. And thus, deserted by all, wounded, bleeding and suffocating, fatigued by an unbearable thirst, He, the one who once breathed life into the first man, died the cruelest of deaths! Even soulless nature recoiled at this crime: the sun darkened and the earth quaked.
For whom, then, did the Savior of the world suffer? He suffered for all mankind, for enemies and tormentors, for those who, having received many benefits from Him, failed to thank Him. He suffered for each and every one of us, stubborn sinners, who daily sadden Him with our indifference, ingratitude, hatred, lies, and wicked deeds, and who, by these innumerable sins, crucify Him again and again.
In order to appreciate more fully the boundless love of Jesus Christ and the extent of His sacrifice, let us remind ourselves how great He is and how insignificant we are. Indeed, Christ is the true God, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit. He resides in an unreachable world, this all powerful Creator of the universe, this immortal King before whom bow countless hosts of angels. He is the undying fountain of life, the Lord of all that is visible and invisible, the formidable Judge of the living and the dead. This same Jesus suffered for us sinful and worthless creatures. Who can comprehend this mystery of Godly Love?