The Romans taxed nearly everything. They taxed personal income and the use of roads and harbors. They taxed carts according the number of wheels, and they taxed for the animal that pulled the cart. If a person was walking with a bundle on his back, a tax collector could require the bundle opened and taxes could be collected on any item therein.
Many Jews became tax collectors hired by the Romans. The Jews punished these people they called, “publicans,” because of their association with the Romans.
A publican could not enter the synagogue. The Pharisees assumed that since a publican was a crook and a thief (and many were), that they should not so much as allow their garments to touch them. Publicans were not allowed to testify in court, since it was assumed they were dishonest. Publicans were classed with murderers and thieves. Once, a Roman saw a monument erected to the memory of an honest tax collector and he remembered the monument all his life. Such was the perceived remote possibility a publican would be honest.
Yet, Jesus, as he passed a publican sitting at his tax table called this tax gatherer to follow him. Realizing the history of these people, why would Jesus do such a thing? It is very likely Jesus saw something in Matthew that others, clouded by their prejudice, couldn’t. He saw a good person. God can do that (1 Samuel 16:7).
The Pharisees were critical of Jesus’ choice. Then, Jesus went to eat with an entire company of publicans. The scribes and Pharisees were livid and asked the disciples why they were doing this. Jesus told them that those who are well do not need a physician, but rather those who are sick (Luke 5:31).
We are soul sick by sin. Even the self-righteous Pharisees who condemned Jesus, needed him more than they knew! Jesus was in the world to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Just like the Pharisees, all of us need to repent and obey Jesus because we are all sold as slaves to sin (Romans 6:16-17).
Have you obeyed the gospel of Jesus?