Its a dirty job but somebody got to do it is a modern phrase and while the phrase has always been true, people that did the dirty jobs in ancient Roman society were as much an outcast as those unclean in Jewish society. Rome’s society was highly ordered and a persons rank in society had everything to do with what they did for a living. That rank was so much different from what a capitalist society values. In ancient Rome even if a person gained wealth, they still could be looked down upon. They would be viewed of lesser worth even if that means of producing wealth was something society desperately needed. Doing something for the good of all could very well make someone an outcast. It was of course a way for people in good social standing to put someone in their place. We still see this in todays society, but the social snobbery of today is but a remnant of that ancient Roman social structure. If todays social snobs are difficult to deal with now, imagine a society that endorsed and thrived on that. Imagine not only the emotional and personal difficulty, but imagine a society where people refused to farm for fear of getting their hands dirty and therefore loosing rank. It was irritating, counterproductive, and dysfunctional. That is the world of the tax collector Mathew and his associates. Lk 5:27-32 Low ranking according to the snobs of Rome because they made their living dealing with money, despised by Jews because they collected taxes for the oppressive enemy. What’s a poor tax collector to do? The thing though is tax collection is a dirty job that someone has to do. Rome demanded revenue, and if it was not collected there was certain to be a massacre. They were despised by the Jews, even though they often were Jews and saved Jewish lives. They were looked down upon by Rome because they had to do the dirty business of collecting money. When Jesus dines with these tax collector’s then, it becomes easy to see how he is healing a major flaw in society. What he did for the crippled and infirm lepers, He now does for the able bodied worker.
Many times when Jesus heals an individual, people focus on a personal healing. The outcast with sores was an individual driven from society because they were first viewed as cursed by God, and second because those sores could infect others. Cripples, the Blind, Lepers all bore personal sufferings, and many times the biggest cure was compassion. It was for man to offer the same compassion that God gives to us. For all those with medical maladies, a cure can be seen both as a medicinal , and a cure can be brought against the stigmas society placed on the infirm. With the tax collectors, the cure is directly aimed at the social stigma of workers. It is not compassion for pain and suffering, but a solidarity with people that do honest work.It simply is standing against snobbish insults and looking at labor in a rational manner. It becomes a recognition of all the varied tasks that need to be completed in order to survive, and it is given recognition to those that labor for the good of their community. People often don’t think of Christianity as the start of a labor movement, but when Christ dines with those civil servants, he clearly is in solidarity with them, and that is a labor movement. It is a recognition of all of the labor that is needed in Gods Kingdom. It places God in charge of those workers, and not the few snobs who think themselves God.