By Bill Mefford
I am always fascinated by not just what people do, but why they do the things they do. Sometimes people have no reason why they do what they do though. Paul even writes of that. But as I read of the birth of Jesus in Luke, when Joseph and Mary have to travel back to Nazareth because of the census, it reads simply that Jesus was born in a manger “because there was no room for him in the inn.” (Luke 5:7)
In Franco Zefferelli’s film about Jesus, shown originally in 1977, Zefferelli portrays Joseph and Mary going from place to place looking for somewhere to stay until a kind woman shows them to a barn on the outskirts of town where Jesus was born. Now, I have no idea if that in fact happened that way, but I always think of that when I read Luke. And I have often thought about the people who possibly could have given shelter to this man and his expectant wife and I can only wonder why they possibly didn’t. Perhaps they viewed her pregnancy as only a problem they might have to deal with her during their stay and they just didn't want to be bothered. Perhaps the young couple simply could not afford the cost of staying there and they had other guests who could. Perhaps they’d shown compassion before to people in need and they had gotten burned.
Honestly, who knows? I think the only thing we can say for certain is that had they known that Mary was to give birth to the Savior of the world they all would gladly have found room. Who doesn’t want the Savior of the world staying in their home or inn?
But no trumpets sounded. No angels appeared. No burning bush or flashing lights. Just a man and his pregnant wife and the innkeeper (or more folks if you prefer Zefferelli’s version) says nope, no room. That’s his right too. He is justified in saying no. No one can fault him, but man, do I pity him. Look at what he missed out on. He missed out on being a part of history. He is forever not remembered as the innkeeper who said no. No room.
It reminds me of a scene in a Ron Howard film, The Paper, when the newspaper editor Henry, played by Michael Keaton, is so focused on his job he is missing out on his family, especially his wife who is – you guessed it – pregnant. After skipping out early on a dinner with his wife, played by Marissa Tomei, and the parents so that he can try and get the scoop on a story for his paper, Tomei is clearly agitated and asks him a hypothetical question. If someone walked in their house with a gun and said to Henry that you either quit your job or I shoot your wife, what would you do? Keaton is exasperated because of course, in such a scenario, he would choose his wife over his job. Tomei responds by telling him that of course, Keaton will never be faced with that choice. Instead, it will be lots of little, unnoticed decisions that will ultimately decide his allegiance. She is right of course. Acting justly always happens in small, unnoticed ways.
It’s a powerful lesson that impacts us daily. We are constantly face with decisions that could dramatically impact the world but without any trumpets, angels, or heavenly chorus. Just us and the homeless guy. No one will see if we pass him by or stop and talk and give him some change. Just us at the corner with the women begging for money and we have to decide if we make eye contact. We keep waiting for the big, dramatic opportunity that will be placed before us. But that never comes because we weren’t faithful in the little things, the day to day things.
The last couple of weeks me and some friends of mine created a letter that we plan on sending to the leadership of the seminary we attended, Asbury. The letter respectfully requests that the Asbury campuses (located in Kentucky, Memphis, and Orlando, FL) be made sanctuary campuses for undocumented immigrants who might be attending as students or working there as faculty or staff. This is not done in any kind of animosity towards Asbury at all. Quite the opposite in fact. It is done in love for the school and the belief that the leaders will be willing to take such a necessary step in light of the dangerous man who won the Electoral College this week and will soon be taking office as president.
It has been funny though to pass this petition around to other alumni. A lot of folks have signed it and posted some amazing comments as well. I am so appreciative of them. For those who haven’t, I mean no disrespect, but their reasoning has been “interesting” to say the least (at least for those who have shared their reasons for not signing it). I have heard that they don’t like the tone of the letter (we rarely like the tone of prophetic letters though).I have heard that we should have talked with the leadership first (though sending a respectful letter signed by a number of people is, by definition is legitimate form of communication and it allows for more people to share their passion respectfully and honestly). I have heard that we are encouraging law-breaking (though rarely have I heard any disdain for U.S. foreign or economic policies which have created major shifts in local economies in the global South creating massive unemployment and the search for livable wages). And I have heard that some people just do not like petitions (though I have hard time believing they would quibble about advocacy methods if their loved ones were undocumented).
Look, all of these views have legitimacy. But it does strike me that if we sent around a letter asking for people to sign it because Jesus was undocumented and was being targeted by a racist, narcissistic, egotistical, tyrannical, insecure leader (oh wait, Jesus was too as a baby!), then we would have no hesitancy in signing the letter. We wouldn’t care about our reputation. We wouldn’t care about creating a ruckus. We wouldn’t care about obeying human-made laws because we would know we are bound by the higher law of love. We would not give a shit about any of that. We would sign letters. We would march. We would make our voice heard until Jesus was safe.
We would make our campuses safe sanctuaries. We would open the doors of our homes.
If we only knew if Jesus was an undocumented immigrant.
If we only knew that the pregnant woman at the door was carrying the Messiah.
Then we would do the right thing.