37 After he had spoken, a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home. He entered and reclined at table to eat.38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.39 The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.40 You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?41 But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.
Luke briefly mentions the Pharisee’s invitation to a meal; the reason for the invitation is not given. But as it came after an address (After he had spoken, v.37), it is a reasonable inference that the host was interested in Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus came in, the Pharisee was amazed that he did not wash the meal. This had nothing to do with hygiene, but was a rule made in the interests of ceremonial purity. Before eating anything, scrupulous Jews had water poured over their hands to remove the defilement contracted by their contact with a sinful world. The quantity of water and the manner of washing are prescribed in minute detail in the Mishnah (Yadaim 1:1ff.). The Pharisee clearly expected that Jesus, as a noted religious teacher, would conform to the accepted practice. It is not recorded that the Pharisee said anything, but Jesus discerned their amazement and commented accordingly.
Jesus stresses the importance of the inward where the light is supposed to illuminate the whole person so that there is no part in darkness. This is in contrast to the Pharisees who are seemingly focused on the exterior conformity to rule, traditions and practices. The implied trajectory of this encounter will be “When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness.” The problem comes when the exterior focus is “the tail that wags the dog” so to speak. While the exterior can resemble wonderful practice, it is still possible that the interior is filled with greed and wickedness. The antidote to greed is perhaps to give away one’s money in alms. Luke records several sayings of Jesus about the need to be poor (6:20; 14:33; 12:21), but he also shows that riches are not condemned as long as they serve the needs of others and do not make one a slave (12:15; 19:8; 16:13).
The Pharisee was concerned with what one does. Jesus is focused on who one is interiorly in order that the interior light within forms the exterior. Jesus is not shy about assessing the Pharisees’ posture in life: You fools! (v.40)
Jesus goes on to an instruction about almsgiving, the precise meaning of which is disputed: But as to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you. (v.41) Some hold that Jesus is going for the ironic carrying the sense: As regards the things within, give alms and everything is clean (so you think!). Others that Jesus is giving a round-about command: better cleanse that which is within. Such meanings cannot be dismissed as impossible, but it is perhaps best to take it that Jesus is stressing the importance of the inward over against the outward. And so it is better to take the words as referring to the importance of a right inward attitude when we give alms. We must give from our hearts and not just make an outward gesture.