Martha, Mary and Lazarus seem to have been the closest friends Jesus had on earth. "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." First came his mother, of course, then these three.
His extended family and neighbours could not understand him, some probably thought him possessed or insane, others were simply afraid. The increasing priestly opposition was like a growing dark cloud, gradually overshadowing Jesus' teaching, dimming his miracles.
You wanted to be healed, cured, liberated from demons tormenting you - but you did not want to have too much to do with him. It had become too risky to be associated with the rabbi of Nazareth. He was obviously headed for disaster, had just escaped stoning.
Thomas Didymus, hearing they were going to Bethany, only three km from Jerusalem, said, "Let us also go to die with him." It was that bad.
What did the dying Lazarus think waiting for his friend Jesus who was not coming, despite being sent for with this desperate plea: "Come, I am sick, help me"?
Did he suspect that Jesus was afraid to return to a location so close to the Temple, the seat of his enemies?
What were the thoughts of Martha and Mary as they washed the dead body of their brother, wrapped him in a shroud, tied bandages to hold it in place, and went through all the rituals of burial? What was happening to their faith in Jesus when men were rolling a boulder to close the entrance to Lazarus' tomb?
The first words with which both Martha and Mary greet Jesus when he finally arrives are the identical: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." That translates into "What kind of a friend are you, Lord? You have healed hundreds if not thousands of complete strangers, even the Samaritans, even infidels, so why not our Lazarus? Your friend Lazarus asked for you and you did not come. Why?"
Martha, the practical one, is trying to squeeze some "religious correctness" out of herself: "I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day." She says all the right things - but does she believe them?
Jesus tells her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live." If I were Martha, I would have agreed politely, just as she does. Someone would have exploded in pain - "Oh, yeah, sure? He will live? When? How?"
Martha's sister Mary does not proclaim her faith in any resurrection of the dead. She is weeping. Jesus is deeply moved himself - and he weeps. God's human face is wet with tears.
The mystery of these tears shed in the wake of forthcoming resurrection of his friend, still puzzle us. Was it the regret that his friends had to suffer so much on account of his death "for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it"?
Oh, my friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary, how can I explain to you the unexplainable? How am I to tell you that I often put the highest demands on my closest and dearest friends, those that I love with all my human and divine heart?
How often through centuries and millennia to come will I have to ask my special friends to trust me and believe me against their human nature, experience and feelings? How many will be invited to share my sufferings and death that many others may be saved? So that we all may meet in my kingdom?
But now, let me wipe these tears and lead me to that grave and open it for me. Rise Lazarus, my friend.