An illustrated copy of The Innkeeper is available here.
Jake’s wife would have been fifty-eight The day that Jesus passed the gate Of Bethlehem, and slowly walked Toward Jacob’s Inn. The people talked With friends, and children played along The paths, and Jesus hummed a song, And smiled at every child he saw. He paused with one small lass to draw A camel in the dirt, then said, “What’s this?” The girl bent down her head To study what the Lord had made, Then smiled, “A camel, sir!” and laid Her finger on the bulging back, “It’s got a hump.” “Indeed it does, And who do you believe it was Who made this camel with his hump?” Without a thought that this would stump The rabbi guild and be reviled, She said, “God did.” And Jesus smiled, “Good eyes, my child. And would that all Jerusalem within that wall Of yonder stone could see the signs Of peace!” He left the lass with lines Of simple wonder in her face, And slowly went to find the place Where he was born. Folks said the inn Had never been a place for sin, For Jacob was a holy man. And he and Rachel had a plan To marry, have a child or two, And serve the folk who traveled through, Especially the poor who brought Their meal and turtle-doves, and sought A place to stay near Zion’s gate. They’d rise up early, stay up late, To help the pilgrims go and come, And when the place was full, to some Especially the poorest, they would say, “We’re sorry there’s no room, but stay Now if you like out back. There’s lots Of hay and we have extra cots That you can use. There’ll be no charge. The stable isn’t very large But Noah keeps it safe.” He was A wedding gift to Jake because The shepherds knew he loved the dog. “There’s nothing in the Decalogue,” He used to joke, “that says a man Can’t love a dog!” The children ran Ahead of Jesus as he strode Toward Jacob’s Inn. The stony road That led up to the inn was deep With centuries of wear, and steep At one point just before the door. The Lord knocked once then twice before He heard an old man’s voice, “‘round back!” It called. So Jesus took the track That led around the inn. The old Man leaned back in his chair and told The dog to never mind. “Ain’t had No one to tend the door, my lad, For thirty years. I’m sorry for The inconvenience to your sore Feet. The road to Jerusalem Is hard ain’t it? Don’t mind old Shem. He’s harmless like his dad. Won’t bite A Roman soldier in the night. Sit down.” And Jacob waved the stump Of his right arm. “We’re in a slump Right now. Got lots of time to think And talk. Come, sit and have a drink. From Jacob’s well!” he laughed. “You own The inn?” the Lord inquired. “On loan, You’d better say. God owns the inn.” At that the Lord knew they were kin, And ventured on: “Do you recall The tax when Caesar said to all The world that each must be enrolled?” Old Jacob winced, “Are north winds cold? Are deserts dry? Do fishes swim And ravens fly? I do. A grim And awful year it was for me When God ordained that strange decree. “How could I such a time forget? Why do you ask?” “I have a debt To pay, and I must see how much. Why do you say that it was such A grim and awful year?” He raised The stump of his right arm, “So dazed, Young man, I didn’t know I’d lost My arm. Do you know what it cost For me to house the Son of God?” The old man took his cedar rod And swept it ‘round the place: “Empty. For thirty years alone, you see? Old Jacob, poor old Jacob runs It with one arm, a dog, and no sons. But I had sons . . . once. Joseph was My firstborn. He was small because His mother was so sick. When he Turned three the Lord was good to me And Rachel, and our baby Ben Was born, the very fortnight when The blessed family arrived. And Rachel’s gracious heart contrived A way for them to stay — there in That very stall.” The man was thin And tired. “You look a lot like him.” But Jesus said, “Why was it grim?” “We got a reputation here That night. Nothing at all to fear In that we thought. It was of God. But in one year the slaughter squad From Herod came. And where do you Suppose they started? Not a clue! We didn’t have a clue what they Had come to do. No time to pray, No time to run, no time to get Poor Joseph off the street and let Him say good-bye to Ben or me Or Rachel. Only time to see A lifted spear smash through his spine And chest. He stumbled to the sign That welcomed strangers to the place, And looked with panic at my face, As if to ask what he had done. Young man, you ever lost a son?” The tears streamed down the Savior’s cheek, He shook his head, but couldn’t speak. “Before I found the breath to scream I heard the words, a horrid dream: ‘Kill every child who’s two or less. Spare not for aught, nor make excess. Let this one be the oldest here And if you count your own life dear, Let none escape.’ I had no sword No weapon in my house, but Lord, I had my hands, and I would save The son of my right hand . . . So brave, O Rachel was so brave! Her hands Were like a thousand iron bands Around the boy. She wouldn’t let Him go and so her own back met With every thrust and blow. I lost My arm, my wife, my sons — the cost Of housing the Messiah here. Why would he simply disappear And never come to help?” They sat In silence. Jacob wondered at The stranger’s tears. “I am the boy That Herod wanted to destroy. You gave my parents room to give Me life, and then God let me live, And took your wife. Ask me not why The one should live, another die. God’s ways are high, and you will know In time. But I have come to show You what the Lord prepared the night You made a place for heaven’s light. “In two weeks they will crucify My flesh. But mark this, Jacob, I Will rise in three days from the dead, And place my foot upon the head Of him who has the power of death, And I will raise with life and breath Your wife and Ben and Joseph too And give them, Jacob, back to you With everything the world can store, And you will reign for evermore.”