Is There Room in the Inn?
By JIM NICHOLS
It is not December and not close to Christmas, so why does this title have a seasonal ring to it?
Even people who have only a passing knowledge of the Bible know a few of the most famous stories. One of those is the description of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and having difficulty finding a place to spend the night. The story has morphed into a stable in creches and is perhaps really described more like a cave, but the point is that they had to settle for some probably unsatisfactory sleeping place, and a place for the baby to be born.
This search for a place for the night, a month, or even years is a recurring theme in scripture. It is common for there to be a charge given by God that something important was waiting to happen at a certain place in the future and followers of God were encouraged to set out on a journey to that place. Mary and Joseph heard that charge; they fit the pattern seen often before them. There are many illustrations.
Perhaps the grandest example of this charge and journey is the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. From captivity to freedom, across the Nile River and Sinai desert, they traveled based on a promise from God. It was an admittedly uneven trip with grumbling and setbacks, but they believed as a nation that there was a “room in the inn” in the future. Perhaps they were anticipating some of the words of the Psalmist who makes such statements as “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My Soul longs, indeed, it faints, for the courts of the Lord” and “Happy are those who live in your house.” They had received a promise and were looking for the fulfillment of it. They trusted that God would accompany them on the journey, as uneven as it might be.
Jesus made a simple request of some of the disciples. The Passover was near, and he asked them to go to a nearby village and seek out an upper room at a specific inn. Jesus did not make idle requests, so his followers assumed that the destination inn was important for some reason. Little did they know that this would not just be an annual Passover meal, but would, in fact, become their last supper together and the initial eucharistic meal. The promise was not verbalized by Jesus; he merely sent them to procure the room, a simple space. “See what happens when we get there,” he implies.
Ananias had heard of Saul (Paul), and he wanted nothing to do with him. He understood rightly that Saul was an enemy of Jesus’ followers, a deadly enemy. After Saul was blinded on the road to Damascus, some unnamed individuals led him to a specific house on Straight Street where he waited for three days. When God sent Ananias a vision requesting that he go to that same house, he wanted no part of that journey. Appropriately fearing for his life, he argued against the vision until the Lord used some rather clear language about the important task he was to have with this newly blinded Saul. Both Saul and Ananias received instruction to be at the same inn at the same time and the Christian story took a large leap forward.
As followers of God, we have received some wonderful promises; many of those have involved journeys with a specific destination. We are following the same pattern as others before us. As with them, the journey will have and has had some valleys and obstacles. Jesus seemed to address that clearly when he comforted his followers in John 14. We should not overlook his description of his “. . . Father’s house where there are many dwelling places.” Furthermore, Jesus stated that he is going there for eternity and that he has rooms for us too. He then says that we do not have to find our way there alone. Not only are there many dwelling places waiting for us, but Jesus, himself, will take us there. There is, in fact, room in the inn for us.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain