Tax collectors were unacceptable in every way: socially, politically, and religiously. Some might say that things haven’t changed much, but really the plight of the tax collector is so much better in our day. We might despise the IRS auditor in our own house, but we like the idea of him in the house of a scoundrel. Further, no one ever thinks the IRS employee a Benedict Arnold because of his job. He may be one, but it is not inherently related to his job. But to the Jew, the tax collector was the worst of traitors. Backed by Roman soldiers he extorted his own countrymen to finance the enemy. Rome grew stronger, the Jews grew weaker, all while the tax collector grew wealthier. In addition he would be religiously unclean because of his frequent dealings with Gentiles.
There was only one reason to be a tax collector in this society, money. You were virtually free to charge as much as you want and any surplus collected was pocketed.
Now imagine the kind of company that such a person who has so ostracized himself form respectable Jewish society would keep. They would be the sort of riffraff who have nothing to lose by associating with him. Jesus was dining with the likes of pimps, prostitutes, thieves, and gamblers.
Jesus seems to call the oddest of disciples and keep the worst of company. Isn’t it wonderful that we’ve now refined the church so that such persons rarely have any dealings with the church except perhaps to beg outside its doors? Evidently Paul still had this problem, the early church being made up of those with less than desirable backgrounds (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Jesus may still call such disciples, but the church rarely does.
But our “health” may come at a cost. If we keep our illusion of health, the Great Physician will have nothing to do with us, He came for sinners.
Sinner, never fear of being too sinful for Jesus, rather, dread thinking yourself too healthy.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.
Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Him.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
– Come Ye Sinners by Joseph Hart