It was 1:00 in the morning in April of 2006. I was in my first year of seminary and quickly coming up on my finals and due dates of several very long papers. I was working for night watch in the maintenance department at that time. It was my job the walk around the campus just before midnight to close everything down, lock the doors and check in on the furnace rooms and buildings around campus to make sure nothing was blowing up and that all the furnaces were still functioning. It was also my job to be on call in the evenings and on the weekends so that if there was an emergency I would go check it out and decide whether one of the maintenance men needed to be called. That night I had been called to one of the apartments in the middle of my rounds because there was water coming in through their closet. So off I went to the apartment looked into the closet and sure enough there was free flowing water coming right into the apartment through the closet next to their bathroom,. My answer, “Yup, looks like you got a flood here. I’ll call the maintenance man”.
I was back in my room by 12:45 a.m. and just relaxing myself down into bed when my phone started ringing. I nearly fell out of bed because anyone who knew my number wouldn’t be calling me without there being an emergency. My heart was thumping. I thought for sure something had happened and someone was in the hospital. You know how it is; you always fear the worst when you get a phone call at 1:00 am. It was one of my friends.
I answered the phone not with my normal cheerful, “Hello”. But rather I picked up the phone with a “What’s wrong?” The answer I got, “Oh nothing. I just wanted to talk about this new guy I met”. I was not thrilled. I yelled at her for scaring me for no reason and for calling me at 1:00 am. I was not in the giving mood. I was tired and needed sleep. So I told her to figure out a more appropriate time to call to talk about boys. I then went back to sleep. The next morning when I got up at 7:00 and I was exhausted.
When is it appropriate to care for the needs of others? And what needs need to care immediately or can they be put off until a more appropriate time? There are boundaries when we care for others. There are certain times that are more appropriate than others and certain needs that supersede certain boundaries. The story I just told you was not one of my proudest moments in handling my friend. She was someone who was constantly calling upon me to care for her needs. And yes sometimes they were serious needs requiring me to lose some sleep and to drop everything to rush in to care for her. But this particular need to talk to a friend could wait until a better time and she needed to be reminded that though I would go out of my way to care for another there was an appropriate time to reach out to a friend to chat and catch up.
But when it comes to safety, pain and urgent matters it is alright to interrupt and to drop everything to attend to those needs. Jesus deals with this in our scriptures for this morning. We see that he teaches and attends to the healing of a woman who had been crippled and all on the Sabbath day. And Jesus was called upon to make account for breaking the law. You see in that time it was against Jewish and societal law to “work” on the Sabbath day. The Sabbath was meant to be held Holy and one could not cook, clean house, or tend their fires or fields on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was held sacred and so no work was allowed to be done and the whole nation was to keep the day holy. This meant that people could not search for food; people could not see doctors; people could not teach.
All of these restrictions on the Sabbath were challenged by Christ in one day in a single lesson. And in so doing, he was teaching all humanity a lesson on when it is appropriate to care for the needs of another. His lesson reveals that there are no hard and fast rules but it must be judged on a case by case basis. Remember Christ went above and beyond in his care of humanity and worked on the Sabbath because he understood that his time on Earth was very limited. He had to reveal God’s will to the world in just 3 years. When he was approached by this woman who was suffering, hurting and in desperate need physically, emotionally and spiritually he judged this to be an appropriate need to be address on the day of the Lord.
Jesus said in the scriptures for this morning, “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day”? If someone is suffering and in desperately need of our assistance then we are called to act or to help acquire the resources needed to help the person. Jesus is not saying to take no Sabbath rest as has been a traditional reading of this passage but he is saying to not hold so tightly on to rules that they prevent us from coming to the aid of someone in need. Rules can cause pain and suffering instead of helping all peoples feel the liberation God intended us to feel with the Sabbath day.
Christ calls us to live compassionately and to work so that all peoples might feel God’s liberation through rest. He calls us to be open to his leading when we are called upon to offer our care and compassion. He calls us not to set boundaries around our observance of care that either harm ourselves or others in their stringency. There are appropriate times to say no and there are times when it is appropriate to stop everything for someone else. So this morning, we are challenged to think about the restrictions we have placed on ourselves when it comes to care. Are these restrictions preventing us from truly reaching out and caring from someone in need? If they are think about changing them. Christ challenged a whole society’s laws around the observance of the Sabbath and in so doing he is challenging the laws and boundaries we have set upon ourselves when it comes to reaching out to someone in need.
 Luke 13: 15-16, RSV.
(based on Luke 13: 10-17)