The Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time, or “Why Eighteen?”


LectionarySt. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, “From infancy you have known sacred writings, capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All of the writing is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in justice/charity; one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every noble work.” This implies every word in Torah is necessary.

The Reading for Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time has unnecessary detail. “Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.”  “Those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them.” Luke does not tell us how many Galileans died, and does not count the “Some people.”

Identical-Twins1Eighteen is an odd number to count, until we learn how in Jewish parlance Chai is a symbol that captures an important aspect of Judaism. The letters Het (ח) and Yud (י) add up to the number 18. The Het has a value of 8 and the yud has a value of 10. Eighteen is a popular number that represents life.” In verse 11, the crippled woman was in the synagogue for the same 18 years. There is something to this eighteen.

fig_tree21“Three,” stands for completeness in Jewish thought. Three plus One is a number cluster that signals the fulfillment of God’s plans (Amos 1; Daniel 7:25, Proverbs 6:16-19, 30:18-19). This detail is here to teach something. When the gardener in our story talks about waiting a year, he adds three years to one more year, to allow God the change to bring the plant/mankind, to completeness/health.

Donkey Jenny and foulIn this crippled woman’s healing, there is discussion about whether or not it is proper to take an animal and lead it out for watering. Talmud/Sabbath/128 explicitly allows this. Jesus then argues from Kal Vahomer, heavy and light,  humans are more important than animals. The important issue is life. Life is more important than the rules because the rules are about promoting life. This is the reason for eighteen being mentioned three times in this passage, and no place else in the Gospels, or New Testament.

Seder plate smallJewish liturgy for Passover has the four sons. One asks, “The wise child asks: What are the testimonies, customs, and precedents which Kyrie our God commanded us?” The foolish one asks, “The foolish child asks mah zot, what is all this? And you should: ‘teach him the laws of Passover.” The wicked child asks: ‘what is all this work to you?’ He says to you and not to him. He separates himself from the community. You should set her/his teeth on edge (hak’he et shinav) and tell him God did this for me when I went out of Egypt, for me and not for her/him. Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.”

It is with this that we read Jesus’ response about the crippled woman. “This daughter of Abraham…” She is coming to life. She is a member of the community. You are too strung out on the rules. In the process of trying to exclude the Galileans killed by Pilate, the eighteen killed by the tower, and this woman, the only people you really exclude are yourselves. This is why Jesus says, “If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” In essence, no, they did not suffer because of anything they did, but if you do not get your act straight, you are next.  Do not say, “They suffer because…” When we do, we only cut off ourselves. Choose life, choose being a member of a vibrant faith community.

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