“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” (Mark 2:13–15, ESV)
Well! I’m sure if I was a tax collector and read this passage, I would be shocked at being included with the additional “and sinners.” It would be something like reading a headline concerning the lifestyles of “pilots and sinners” or perhaps “flight crews and sinners” [which may be uncomfortably close to the truth]. Let’s face it, to be grouped together with any group that ends in “and sinners,” doesn’t reflect to well on your own occupation.
This was apparently true of tax collectors in Palestine during the Roman occupation. They received orders from above to collect “x” amount of taxes. Who was going to know if the creative tax collector didn’t simply make that “y” amount of taxes and pocket the difference? Sure the people from whom you collected taxes would eventually figure things out when you were living in a villa overlooking the nearest oasis, but to whom would they complain? The people whose pockets they had been filling with collected tax revenues? That complaint wouldn’t go far.
As you can see, tax collectors had a reputation and it was not a good reputation.