Everybody needs friends – even Jesus. In the village of Bethany Jesus had three very special friends – the sisters, Martha and Mary, and their brother, Lazarus. Their house remained open to him when many other houses were being closed against him.

When Lazarus got sick, it was only natural that the first one the two sisters should turn to for help was Jesus. They sent an urgent message to him, couched in language calculated to appeal to his heart. It said simply, “Lord, the man you love is ill.” Their hope was that he would drop everything and come and cure him.

But surprisingly Jesus did not drop everything and rush to the bedside of his dying friend. Instead he stayed on where he was for two whole days. We don’t know why. His delay in coming must have been heartbreaking for the sisters. Right in front of their eyes their brother’s life was ebbing away. And the one they believed could do something about it wasn’t there.

Well, Lazarus died. The Gospel shows the desolation his death caused to Martha and Mary. Of the two, Mary seems to have been the worst affected. She wouldn’t even leave the house. While they had sympathetic people around them, the one they most wanted to be with them was not there. Jesus, their friend and the friend of Lazarus, was absent. And when he finally came, they suggested that he could have prevented this death “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”

The desolation experienced by Martha and Mary is one many of us have experienced. And when something bad happens to us or to a loved one, we can’t help thinking that if God really cared about us, if he really loved us, then he wouldn’t have allowed this thing to happen. We feel abandoned by God. We feel he has left us alone.

So what can we do? We must try to imitate Martha. The story presents her as a model of faith. In her hour of grief, she ran to the Lord and poured out her sorrow to him. And when he challenged her to believe, she made a wonderful profession of faith: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into the world.”

What we have to do then is to turn to God. We have to go on praying, to go on believing in God. Neither a good life, nor a close relationship with God, will necessarily save a person from a tragic death. In the face of our pain all we can do is commend ourselves to God, and abandon ourselves to his care.

When we suffer it seems as though God is absent. But when we pray we come to realize that God is not absent, but is present in our suffering. God is with us as our hope in adversity, and our strength in weakness.

The story shows Jesus as a faithful friend. It shows that even in death we are not beyond the reach of his help. He didn’t leave Martha and Mary to grieve alone. He came to them at the height of their grief, shared their sorrow, and gave them hope by announcing eternal life to those who believe in him.

He does not leave us alone either. He surrounds us with the love and support of the community. And he challenges us to have faith in himself: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will never die.” To believe doesn’t mean that we know all the answers.

Jesus understands the anguish caused by death. He experienced it himself. He overcame death, not by avoiding it, but by undergoing it and overcoming it. He has become a pathfinder and a beacon of hope for us.