16.How can a man who is a sinner do these things? The word sinner is employed here, as in many other passages, to denote a person of immoral conduct and a despiser of God.
Why doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners?
That is, “ doth your Master eat with men of ungodly and wicked lives, whose baseness is stamped with universal infamy?” For from the violation of the Sabbath the enemies of Christ inferred that he was a profane person, and destitute of all religion. Those who stand neutral and judge more candidly, on the other hand, conclude that he is a good and religious man, because God has endued him with remarkable power to work miracles. And yet the argument does not appear to be quite conclusive; for God sometimes permits false prophets to perform some miracles, and we know that Satan, like an ape, counterfeits the works of God so as to deceive the incautious.
Suetonius relates that, when Vespasian was in Alexandria, and was seated on his tribunal to dispense justice in the open court, a blind man requested him to anoint his eyes with spittle, and said that one Serapis (259) had pointed out to him that cure in a dream; that Vespasian, being unwilling to expose himself to contempt without any good reason, was slow and reluctant to comply; but that, when his friends urged him on all sides, he granted to the blind man what he asked, and that in this way his eyes were instantly opened. Who would reckon Vespasian among the servants of God on that account, or adorn him with the applause of piety? I reply, among good men and those who fear God, miracles are undoubted pledges of the power of the Holy Spirit; but it happens by a just judgment of God, that Satan deceives unbelievers by false miracles, as by enchantments. What I have just now quoted from Suetonius I do not reckon to be fabulous; but I rather ascribe it to the righteous vengeance of God, that the Jews, having despised so many and so illustrious miracles of Christ, were at length — as they deserved to be — sent away to Satan. For they ought to have profited in the pure worship of God by the miracles of Christ; they ought to have been confirmed by them in the doctrine of the Law, and to have risen to the Messiah himself, who was the end of the Law. And undoubtedly Christ, by giving sight to the blind man, had clearly proved that he was the Messiah.
They who refuse to acknowledge God in his works make this refusal, not only through indifference, but through malicious contempt; and do they not deserve that God should give them up to the delusions of Satan? Let us then remember that we ought to seek God with a sincere disposition of heart, that he may reveal himself to us by the power of his Spirit; and that we ought to lend our ears submissively to his word, that he may clearly point out true prophets by miracles that are not delusive. Thus shall we profit, as we ought to do, by miracles, and not be exposed to the frauds of Satan.
As to the men themselves, though they act commendably in this respect, that they speak with reverence about the miracles in which the power of God is displayed, still they do not bring forward a sufficiently strong argument, to prove that Christ ought to be reckoned a Prophet of God. And even the Evangelist did not intend that their answer should be regarded as an oracle. He only exhibits the wicked obstinacy of the enemies of Christ, who maliciously pick a quarrel with what they cannot but acknowledge to be the works of God, and, when warned, do not even attend to them for a short time.
And there was a division among them. A schism is a highly pernicious and destructive evil in the Church of God; and how comes it then that Christ sows the occasion of discord among the very teachers of the Church? The answer is easy. Christ had no other object in view than to bring all men to God the Father, by stretching out his hand to them. The division arose from the obstinate malice (260) of those who had no disposition to go to God. All who do not yield obedience to the truth of God, therefore, rend the Church by schism. Yet it is better that men should differ among themselves, than that they should all, with one consent, revolt from the true religion. (261) Wherefore, whenever differences arise, we ought always to consider their source.