What’s in Your Cave? A Deeper Look at the Story of Lazarus

One of my absolute favorite lines in all of scripture comes from the Gospel of John: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)   At first glance, you may be wondering why someone would love to hear about a person weeping; however, there is an incredible amount of depth and beauty etched between those simple words. They point towards Jesus’ emotions— ultimately,  His humanity.

As Catholics we know that Christ has two natures: human and divine. We have heard about the vast miracles and wonders that Jesus worked: the feeding of the great multitude, curing the sick, forgiving sins, transfiguring on the mountain, restoring sight to the blind… to name just a few. But there is one story in particular that jumps out at me: the raising of Lazarus. I love this story for its layers and for its “rawness.” It portrays the  beauty and honesty of what it means to not only experience the tragedy in our lives, but to also experience Christ within those very pains. This story highlights both the divine, as well as the human side of Jesus. Putting it all together makes it incredibly powerful.

So here’s the lowdown on this story:

Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was dying. His sisters, Martha and Mary, sent word to Jesus to let Him know the state of their brother. Jesus, instead of hurrying to heal him, remains where He is and stays away simply stating that his suffering will be for the glory of God. The apostles may have been confused and wondering why now all of a sudden Jesus is hesitant to heal someone. Jesus decided to wait four days to go back to Judea so He can see His buddy, Lazarus. When the apostles heard that they’re going back to Judea, they briefly tried to change His mind by reminding Jesus that the last time they were there He was almost stoned to death. It’s interesting, however, because the apostles look at each other and mumble that when they go back, they’re going back to be killed… and they willingly go anyway! (I can’t help but wonder why then, several chapters, later they flee, but, that’s a conversation for another day!) Nevertheless, on with the story!

This where it gets good:

Jesus and the apostles arrived back in Judea, and thankfully, no one has tried to kill Him quite yet. When word gets out that He’s back, Martha went out to meet Jesus to tell Him that her brother has died. Jesus, upon hearing the news, cried for the loss of His friend.


Jesus. Just. Cried. I repeat. Jesus. Just. Cried. The Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, The One who painted the stars and blew life into Adam’s clay lungs had tears running down His perfect cheeks because He was experiencing sadness. He felt emotion. He felt pain. He felt loss. Jesus’ tears mingled with those of Martha and Mary over the death of Lazarus. This is amazing.

We know that Jesus is 100% human as well as 100% divine, but do we stop and remember that He is human just like us? I don’t know about you, but there have definitely been moments in my own life in which I have cried, where I was sad, and I’ve felt loss. Jesus really does understand when we cry out to Him in pain. This is why I love the two simple words: “He wept.” In other words, He gets it. When we call out to Him drowning in our misery, He deeply empathizes, not just sympathizes. Jesus is there for us, He’s a shoulder to cry on because He too has cried on someone’s shoulder. He’s human, just like us.


Martha looks up at Jesus and tells Him two things: One. “If you had been here my brother would not have died.”   Two: “I know that my brother will rise again on the last day.” (John 11:24) Jesus, filled with compassion and strength, responds that Lazarus will rise again… but sooner than she thought and not just on the last day… but TODAY. That day Lazarus will walk out of the cave, eyes wide open, and heart beating. Get ready to see The Divine at work.

Something magnificent is about to happen.

Jesus then orders that the stone be rolled away, despite that onlookers are warning Him that there could be a stench, or that it could be a less than lovely sight after four days in the tomb. However, He walks up and enters the cave, thus reversing death, and calls His friend to rise up.  Jesus instructs someone to untie Lazarus and let him go. The story in scripture ends there. But does it? While scripture doesn’t quite reveal whether or not a big celebration went down, I would like to think that there was a big party that took place in Judea that night.

But there is something else that deeply moves me about this story…

Jesus didn’t care what Lazarus looked like, the state of his body, or even if he wasn’t smelling too great; He entered the cave anyway. Jesus overlooked the “stench” and met Lazarus exactly where he was. Is this not true about the Christian life? Jesus willing goes to him, to us… He willingly entered into that cave of darkness to call His friend back to life… to call us back to life. Each one of us has their own “cave” in which they may not be too proud of. All of us suffer and sin… and sometimes our sin has a “stence”. But time and time again, Jesus enters into our cave to call us back to life… to call us back to Himself. Jesus wants to be with us, no matter what, and He wants us to want to be with Him. Ultimately, however, He wants us to permit Him to be close… to give Him permission to heal and love us.

So here’s a few questions to reflect upon:

Am I letting Jesus enter my “cave”? Am I permitting Him, who is both human and divine, to even come near my “stench,” both of either sin or pain that He wants to heal? What’s even in my cave? Am I hiding in the dark of my cave afraid of Jesus coming too close?

Our God is a God of love and mercy. Yes, for whatever reason, sometimes He permits us to suffer; but Jesus is a perfect gentleman. He awaits for us to give Him permission to enter our cave to comfort us, cry with us, love us, heal us, and to be fully present with us.

Yet the final question remains:

Will you let Him enter your cave, and not only heal you, but will you walk out of that cave arm in arm in the light of Jesus? Take it from someone who has spent some time in a cave… the merciful and loving light of Jesus is so much better than sitting in the darkness of a cave alone. Friends, even if you spend some time sitting in your cave crying with Jesus, I hope that you decide to allow Jesus to walk out with you, or carry you, laughing arm in arm, into the light of His healing and magnificent grace.

image: Zzvet / Shutterstock.com


Maggie Carroll is a native Virginian who teaches Theology at Bishop O'Connell Catholic High School. Since her background is in ministry, that comes out when she teaches. She runs the "Fiat" women's formation group at her school. Maggie is also involved in the retreat program at O'Connell, and has written and led a weekend semi-silent retreat for teenagers. She earned a degree in Theology, with an emphasis in ministry, from Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Maggie absolutely loves what she does and is passionate about working with teenagers so that they may come to know Christ, and to encourage them that everyone is called to be a saint!

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