Innkeeper Spirituality

 

…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. – Luke 2:7
 
As the migrant caravan of asylum-seekers makes its 2,000 mile trek toward the U.S., I’m reminded of two characters from the Gospel of Luke:  The Innkeeper of Bethlehem and the Good Samaritan.

Whose example do we want to follow?

The Innkeeper

Many Christians today practice what I call “innkeeper spirituality.” Like the innkeeper in Bethlehem, they can’t seem to find any available time, talent or treasure to answer when God knocks on the door in real need.

They have no shortage of excuses, however. I can imagine the innkeeper saying things like:

“I am tired!”
“I have already helped others! In fact, I’m the most generous innkeeper around!”
“The census is the busiest time of the year!”
“I have to protect my time with my family!”
“I don’t trust outsiders–what if one of them is a thief or murderer?”

Maybe those excuses are valid… maybe not so much.

Some characters in the Bible get a bad rap, and the innkeeper is no exception. Truth be told we don’t know much about this person. How much can we infer based on a single line of text from a 2,000+ year old document?

It’s even more confusing when the document doesn’t even say what we think it says. There was no actual mention of an innkeeper. All we are told is that there was “no guest rooms available” and then it says “for them” (as a side note, were rooms available to others and just not to this particular family?)

Still, it’s not hard to imagine what went down. Here is a family traveling from out of town and the woman is about to give birth. Joseph as husband and protector probably explored every possible option, promised every favor imaginable and left absolutely no stone unturned. I’m sure he inquired with at least one innkeeper. Perhaps he approached several innkeepers.

The innkeeper probably felt more than a little twang of guilt. We imagine him sternly saying “No!” and then slamming the door to the Holy Family. The more guilt he felt, the harder he had to bite down on that guilt in order to push away this family in need.

But seriously, he couldn’t ask some young person to move off the proverbial couch to make way for an expectant mother-to-be? A pregnant woman about to give birth should be the one condition that would cause most everyone–even some of the most fearful or hardest hearted people–to make some space available! If a woman was literally about to give birth and knocked on my door at night, I couldn’t imagine saying, “yeah, go outside to the shed… watch out for raccoons” It’s almost inconceivable.

The Good Samaritan paying the innkeeper

The Good Samaritan

What could the innkeeper have done differently?

Luke himself actually gives us the answer later in the gospel in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Again, here is a stranger in need and another person who comes in contact with him by chance. Unlike the innkeeper in Bethlehem, the good Samaritan reaches out to the injured man. The Samaritan goes toward him. He takes the initiative. He takes personal responsibility for this man. He makes sure there is a room available for him by not only paying the innkeeper himself but also promising to return to personally check on him–to see if additional money were needed but perhaps also to check up on the innkeeper to make sure he did what he was paid to do.

This is no doubt a different innkeeper than the one in Bethlehem. Luke seems pretty hard on innkeepers. Still, isn’t it curious that those who are in the business of providing hospitality seem to be the least hospitable in his gospel? It is outsiders who don’t have as many resources to leverage who show us God’s abundance!

The Samaritan does more than he is asked and goes the extra mile. The Samaritan was obviously busy and had somewhere to be, but he still made arrangements for his absence. Hopefully, he also reflected on why the man was injured in the first place and would raise his voice in public so that the road to Jericho could become a safer place in the future.

The Samaritan could have made all the same excuses as the innkeeper. No doubt the priest and the Levite who passed by the injured man gave those same excuses–the same excuses we tell ourselves when we drive by a person asking for a handout or when we close the border to people begging for help.

“Make every effort”

Hebrews 12:14 instructs us to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

It is clear that the Good Samaritan “made every effort.” It is also clear that the innkeeper did not.

Perhaps sometimes we do need to say “no.” Even the most charitable people will speak of the need to set limits or risk burning out. But are we making every effort before we arrive at that point?

Back to the migrant caravan: The U.S. has large tracts of available land and empty housing. It is the richest nation in the history of modern civilization. On top of that, immigration of all types is generally a boost to the economy. Despite that, many Americans say to migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers: “We don’t have room! We can’t accommodate!”

Meanwhile, a much poorer nation like Uganda hosts the world’s largest refugee settlement. How is Uganda willing and able to open its doors while the U.S. is not?

We have a choice: We can practice the innkeeper spirituality that always says “we can’t.” Or we can follow in the footsteps of the Good Samaritan who said, “Yes, I can do something here.”

But if we turn them away, I have to ask:  How could they possibly be a burden? We could welcome in this whole migrant caravan of asylum-seekers and the vast majority of Americans would not feel even the slightest inconvenience

My prayer: I hope each of these asylum seekers find safe harbor and a warm Christian welcome here in the United States.

Visit Frank Lesko’s website here.

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