The queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus is the one now whose wisdom people need to hear, as he is the personification of wisdom, a wisdom that goes beyond the “wise” of this world. Paul puts it this way: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ….. the Wisdom of God.” With these comparisons to a prophet, Jonah, and a king, Solomon, readers are reminded that Jesus is both prophet and king. Indeed, he is greater than these forerunners, and the prophets and kings who went before him would have wanted to see and hear him.
The emphasis on hearing the Word of God continues with Jesus’ sayings about a lamp and light. The connection between God’s Word and light, seen earlier in Jesus’ teaching, is rooted in Scripture: “Your word is a lamp for my feet,/ a light for my path.” Jesus, who is light, is the one who communicates the word of God that must be heard. The light imagery shifts to one’s ability to see through one’s eye, which is the lamp of the body. When the light is sound, healthy, there is no difficulty, and a person becomes full of light, but when it is bad, then that person remains in darkness. Judging by Jesus’ comments, many of his listeners have eyes of evil, or are not making sound or sincere judgments about him. They have the evil eye, such that the light in them has become darkness. Having a good or bountiful eye is a biblical idiom for a person who is generous, one who shares bread with the poor. On the other hand, one whose eye is “evil” gives nothing to a neighbor in need. Jesus cites the Good Samaritan as one who knew how to help a person in need.
Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee, where he emphasizes important matters of the law and reprimands both law scholars and Pharisees. The Pharisee criticizes Jesus for not washing his hands before eating and gets a lecture in return. Jesus told him the real filth was inside not outside the body (what about viruses that are both inside and outside, Jesus? Show us some mercy, already!) His teaching now takes the form of denunciation. He calls the Pharisees “fools,” a term usually kept for the wicked. He criticizes the ritual observances of the Pharisees, saying that they are just empty shows. An external washing is useless if inside they are filled with plunder and evil. Jesus instructs them to give alms in order to cleanse themselves.
Like an Old Testament prophet Jesus now pronounces a series of woes or warnings of impending judgment, three directed against the law scholars and three directed against the Pharisees. The first woe denounces the Pharisees for focusing on the tithes on each herb, but neglecting important matters like justice and love of God. In the second woe, Jesus warns them about pride, like seeking the seat of honor in synagogues. Another woe chastises them for the heavy burden they impose on people—for instance their detailed interpretations of the requirements of the Torah. Jesus is reminding those who teach the Gospel to help new Christians understand the faith. The last woe is ironic. The scholars, who should not only hear and keep God’s word, but also teach it to others, have actually taken away the key to knowledge—that is, about God’s word and hence, about the Kingdom. They refused to enter the kingdom and stopped those wanting to enter.