And when the Pharisees saw it
The feast Matthew made, the guests that were invited, and particularly that Christ sat down to meat with such vile and wicked company; they and the Scribes, as Mark and Luke add, who generally were together, of the same complexion, equally enemies to Christ, and watchful observers of his conduct, and pretending to a more strict and religious way of life, were offended at all this;
and said to his disciples,
which they chose to do, rather than to Christ himself; partly, because they were afraid to engage in a dispute with him, who had just given them a full proof of his omniscience, that he knew the very thoughts and reasonings of their minds, and had so confounded them already, both by his arguments and miracles; and partly, because they might think themselves a match for the disciples, and might hope to stumble and ensnare them, and prevail upon them to quit their profession, and leave following him, whom they would suggest could not be a good man, that was guilty of so evil an action; which, with them, was very unlawful and abhorrent, as that for which they accuse and reprove him,
why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?
The "publicans", or gatherers of the Roman tax, toll, or tribute of any sort, whether Jews or Gentiles, were persons of a very infamous character; and, as here, so often, in Jewish writings, are ranked with "sinners", and those of the worst sort: so false swearing was allowed to be made (Nyokwmlw Nymrxlw Mygrwhl) , "to murderers, and to robbers, and to publicans" F15; and so "publicans and thieves" are joined together by Maimonides F16, and a publican is said by him to be as a thief. And indeed this was not only the sense of the Jews, but also of other people, according to those words of Zeno the poet, (pantev telwnai) (pantev eisin arpagev) F17, "all publicans are all of them robbers": though this was not originally their character; for formerly the best of the Roman gentry were employed in this office, till by malpractices it became scandalous, when the meaner sort of people, yea, even vassals, were put into it F18. Now, with such sort of men as these the Pharisees held it unlawful to have any sort of conversation; they expelled such their society, would not dwell with them in the same house, nor eat or drink with them; concerning which, their rules and methods are these;
``a companion, or friend, who becomes the king's collector, or a "publican", or the like, they drive him from society with them: if he abstains from his evil works, then he is as any other man F19.''Again,
``when the king's collectors enter into a house to dwell, all that are in the house are defiled F20.''Moreover, it is F21 said, that
``the former saints ate their common food with purity, i.e. with their hands washed, and took care of all defilements every day; and these were called Pharisees; and this sect was exceedingly holy, and was the way of piety; for such a man was separated, and he abstained from the rest of the people, and he did not touch them, (Mhme htvyw lkay alw) , "nor did he eat and drink with them".''It was a general rule with them, that a clean person ought not to eat with an unclean, as they judged the common people to be; nay, that a Pharisee, who was unclean himself, might not eat with another person that was so, and which they boast of, as a great degree of holiness.
``Come and see, (say they F23,) to what a pitch purity has arrived in Israel; for they not only teach, that a pure person may not eat with one that is defiled, but that one that has a "gonorrhoea" may not eat with another that has one, lest he should be used to transgress this way; and a Pharisee that has a "gonorrhoea" may not eat with a common person that has one, lest he should be used to do so.''Hence they looked upon Christ and his disciples as such, and would insinuate that they were evil men, who had no regard to purity of life and conversation.
F15 Mis. Nedarim, c. 3. sect. 4.
F16 Hilch. Gezela, c. 5. sect. 9. 11.
F17 Apud Fabricii Graec. Biblioth. l. 2. c. 22. p. 755.
F18 Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 29.
F19 Maimon. Mishcab & Moshab, c. 10. sect. 8.
F20 lb. c. 12. sect. 12.
F21 lb. Hilchoth Tumaot Okelim. c. 16. sect. 12.
F23 T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 13. 1.