In a perfect world, people get exactly what they deserve. Good comes to those who do good, but bad to those who do bad. A perfect world, in other words, is characterized by justice, which Aristotle defined as treating equals equally and unequals unequally.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. In our world, bad things happen to good people, while bad people enjoy good things. Injustice is all too often the rule in our world, not the exception.
According to Mark 6.1–29, Jesus and his colleagues also experienced injustice. Although good people—in Jesus’ case, a perfect person—they experienced bad things. Jesus was a “prophet without honor” in his hometown (vv. 1–6a). He trained his disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” of villages who rejected the good news (vv. 6b–13). And John the Baptist—last of the Old Testament prophets—was beheaded because Herod made a rash vow to a seductive dancer (vv. 14–29).
How should we live in an unjust world?
First, we should say what we must. When Jesus taught in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, the people were amazed, as Jesus’ audiences typically were after hearing him speak. But their amazement was cynical, not joyful. “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” Hegel once said that no man was a hero to his own valet. Jesus surely wasn’t a hero to his fellow villagers. Their familiarity with him—or perhaps their envy of him?—had only bred contempt. But Jesus spoke anyway. So did the disciples, who experienced a measure of success in their evangelistic efforts. And so did John the Baptist, whose brave criticism of Herod’s sexual immorality ultimately cost him his life. In an unjust world, those who are just by faith must speak the truth, no matter what the cost.
Second, we should do what we can. Verses 5 and 13 offer a startling contrast between Jesus and his disciples. Of Jesus we read: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” But of the disciples we read: “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” How is it that Jesus healed so few when the disciples healed so many? Verse 6 says, “And [Jesus] was amazed at [his villagers’] lack of faith.” With both Jesus and the disciples, there was no shortage of power to heal, and they were all willing to heal. The shortage lay in the faith of the Nazarene villagers. Their unbelief constrained Jesus’ power. As followers of Christ, we should do whatever good we can whenever we can, but we should also realize that some people don’t want us to do good to them.
Finally, we should bear what we must. Jesus bore the sadness of the villagers’ failure of faith. The disciples bore the joy of miraculous success. John suffered persecution and martyrdom. When we say what we must and do what we can, we must be prepared for whatever result comes our way, either good or bad. That is the cost of discipleship for all who follow Jesus.