Who should be evicted to provide a room for the lady expecting a baby? And what if someone needier came along? Ultimately, would Mary have given up the stable? The story of the Manger is presented without discussion. When need is the standard of judgment, the problems are not easily resolved.
Apparently, the innkeeper gave them the use of the stable, free of charge. Logically followed from that premise, the innkeeper would become a charity, himself begging for money to supply others with room and board from the goodness of his heart, and that of the donors. In the Literal Word, the Holy Family was just passing through. After the visit from the shepherds, a few days later, the Wise Men found Mary in a house. Eventually, everyone fled Herod's soldiers. But the next needy person might not be a traveler. Then, the innkeeper could have a permanent guest. In the final analysis, his inn would be filled, not with the families of itinerate carpenters, but with clans of the unemployable.
On the other hand, our commercial culture rests on several thousand years of norms, folkways, and customs that prevent and remediate such conflicts. The power of the purse and the sanctity of contract could have informed a better solution.
Joseph and Mary approached the inn. Joseph knocked. The innkeeper answered. “We need a room for the night.”
“We are full,” the innkeeper said.
“But my wife is having a baby. We need a place.”
The innkeeper was sympathetic, but unmoved. “All I have is the stable. It will have to do.”
Having a better grasp of the problem, Mary spoke up. “Why not remove someone who is not in need and give us their room? Let them sleep in the stable?”
“Well, first of all, I do not want a woman in labor in the middle of the inn. It will disturb everyone.”
Mary countered, “It is going to be a miracle birth: no muss, no fuss; easy-peasy.”
“It begins with the fact that I am a virgin, in fact, the Virgin.”
“All right, look,” said the weary innkeeper whose livelihood depended on making everyone (else) happy. “Whatever you say… I am not going to stand here and argue. Let me make some arrangements. And speaking of arrangements, what did you bring for money? The stable you can have for eight prutot, as two mites make half a farthing. For a room, I need something close to the temple tax, a denarius, a drachmon, half a shekel.”
Mary whispered sweetly into Joseph’s ear, “I told you to call ahead and make reservations.”
Joseph said, “The drachmon, denarius, and half shekel are not exactly equal.”
“I am not a money changer,” sighed the innkeeper. “Find them in the temple. Everything spends in this town, especially at tax season.”
And so it was done – with some difficulty…
The innkeeper knocked and entered, waking the rug merchant. “I am sorry,” he said, “but I am giving your room to a woman having a baby.”
“Where am I going to sleep?”
“The stable is available.”
“But I paid for a room.”
“I will refund half of your money. After all, you have been here half a day.”
“Oh, no,” said the rug merchant. “The stable is a downgrade. What have you got worth 24 Roman sestertii? You know, if I took this to the judges, you might catch a break: those old Solomons love a challenge. But if I complain to the Roman curator, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable outcome. Plus, where am I to store my rugs? They will not be improved by the stable.”
Not seeing sleep in his future, the innkeeper put the rugs in his own room – at no charge and no discount, even up.
The Three Wise Men followed the star. They found the inn. The inn was crowded.
“Whoa! Where are you guys going?”
“We are seeking the King of the Jews for we have seen His star in the east.”
“Of course you did…” replied the weary innkeeper. “And that could not possibly have been Herod, the actual king in Jerusalem?”
“The star is over your place,” said Melchior.
“Well, I assure you, we have no kings here. Have a table. I will bring a nice brisket, some bread, olive oil, wine. What did you bring for money? Nulla mensa sine impensa.”
Caspar opened his purse and took out a large silver coin. The innkeeper inspected it. “You Parthians! The image of Mithradates is not popular with the Romans. I don’t want any trouble. Got anything else?”
Balthazar shook out a handful of civic bronzes from Antioch. The wise men enjoyed their brisket. The innkeeper racked his brain for a guest likely to be a king in disguise.
A knock at the door. The innkeeper opened up. There stood an old couple, bent and gray. The woman leaned heavily on the man’s arm.
ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS