And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. Matt. 18:13
Among the Jews, the publican class—including both those who taxed the farms, and those who actually collected from the people—was regarded with unmingled detestation. They had a proverb, "Take not a wife out of a family where there is a publican, for they are all publicans."
And it appears that the Gentiles did not think much better of this class. Xenophon said they were all robbers.
Theocritus, being asked which was the worst kind of wild beast, replied, "On the mountains, bears and lions; in cities, publicans and pettifoggers."
And another classical writer designates the life of a publican as "robbery beyond count, shameful greediness, a calling destitute of honor, a disgraceful traffic."
Jesus surely turned society's ideas on their head when he chose one of his disciples from this class.