Pharisees and the “Outside”

Pharisees and the “Outside” October 25, 2003

Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees’ concern with the “outside” is remarkable. He condemns them for cleaning the outside of the plate and cut without concern for the robbery and wickedness within. That looks like a simple opposition of inner v. outer purity, however much Jesus combines the two in v 40. But the combination is not just a juxtaposition, as if Jesus saw the internal and external man as separate entities pressed and glued together. The climax comes in v 41, which thoroughly disrupts the inner/outer dualism, in a couple of ways: First, because the exhortation is to “give” the “things that are within”; in short, cleanness comes by a movement from inside outside, a movement of gift. Second, because the inner things are to be given as “alms”; again, the inner cleanness is best described not in terms of a pure and clean interior, but in terms of a movement across boundaries. A similar subversion of inner/outer seems to be at work in Jesus’ comments about the light and eye. Commentators frequently appeal to ancient conceptions that light radiated from the eye outward, and therefore Jesus can rightly say that the eye is the lamp of the body. But the image seems to be that the eye is the lamp because it permits light to come into the body, to illuminate “things that are within.” What makes the body illumined is a clear sight of what is outside, namely, that the kingdom has come in Jesus and that something greater than Solomon and Jonah has arrived.

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