This verse is part of a discourse from Jesus in which he blasts the religious establishment of his days. It is also a very confusing verse, just look at the incredible variety of ways in which this verse has been translated. So in order to make some sense of it, let’s look first at the context, and then at the verse itself.
Luke 11: 37 And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Ok, so Jesus is upset because the greedy and wicked Pharisee is concerned about Jesus not washing his hands before dinner. As a result of their greed, the Pharisees are ignoring the justice and love of God. Jesus is sharply rebuking them for it.
So let’s look at our verse in a bit more detail. It has two verbs in the imperative tense, ‘give alms’, and ‘behold’. The root word for the verb of giving alms is the noun ‘eleos’, which means mercy, pity, compassion. It’s the same word that Jesus used in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who showed mercy and compassion (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus uses this verb also in the Sermon on the Mount, where he tells people to do their good deeds in secret (let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing) so that God will reward you (rather than men).
The word for ‘things that you have’ is `eneimi`, which comes from ‘en’ (in, inside) and ‘eimi’ (to be, to exist). There are no other places in the bible where this word is used, but it ties back to the previous verses where Jesus talks about the inward part of the Pharisees.
The verb for behold is `idou` or `horao` (there are a few different forms in English for it) and it means to see or look. The word for all things is ‘panta’ and it does mean just that, all things, everything. The word for clean is ‘katharos’, and it means pure, clean, unstained. It is used for both physical things (like the dishes in verse 39) and spiritual things, such as our heart or our conscience or our actions.
Ok, so what does this all mean? Some people think that Jesus is cynical here, as in “you give some alms to the poor and now you think that everything is ok with you”, but I don’t agree with that interpretation. After all, the verb for having compassion is in the imperative tense.
It seems more logical that Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should clean up their inside, by doing deeds of true mercy and compassion. Once they do that, all things will indeed be clean to them. Here are two verses that seem to support this interpretation:
Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Titus 1:15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.
So what is the application for us? Work on your inside, your heart, your values, your conscience. If you keep that pure, you will be able to do good acts of compassion, and you will be able to have mercy. God is a compassionate god and God has mercy on us. We should do so likewise to others. When is the last time you showed mercy and compassion?