When the television show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” was at its height, it was typical of the kind of programme that prompted viewers to leap from their armchairs in despair when the contestant struggled with the simplest of questions. The quiz required you to correctly answer fifteen increasingly difficult questions in order to win 1 million pounds, but some people managed to struggle even with the easy subjects.

“Which of the following is not a gospel in the New Testament?” might have been a question. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, or Cuthbert?” But the contestant would spend a long time discussing how he’d never heard of the gospel of Mark. Members of RML Mark across London would stare at their television screens in disbelief as the individual talked himself into an early departure. “What is wrong with you?!” they would say. “Why can’t you see that the answer is Cuthbert! There is no ‘Gospel of Cuthbert’!”

We’re meant to have a similar reaction to the disciples’ confusion, when we see them again in Mark 8:14-21. Having seen Jesus feed thousands with a simple packed lunch – twice! – it’s incredible that they should be worried about their meagre supplies. But Mark doesn’t want to leave us astounded. The passage takes on a sinister air. After 8 chapters of the disciples fluctuating between spiritual highs (e.g. Mark 6:30) and desperate lows (e.g. Mark 6:52), we find the piercing words of Jesus: “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” (Mark 8:18).

The words are familiar. They’ve come up before. Indeed, Mark has used blindness and deafness as a picture of unbelief throughout his account of Jesus’ life so far. Remember Jesus’ teaching about the parables back in Mark 4:12? Those who failed to understand – the outsiders, rebels against Jesus - were described as seeing but not perceiving, hearing but not understanding. And now Jesus uses the same terms to speak of the disciples. We leap out of our armchairs and shout at the disciples, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you see that the answer is…”

And then, all of a sudden, they know what the answer is. When asked the simple question in Mark 8:29, Peter answers: “You are the Christ.” Suddenly they see! But how?

Mark tells us the answer with another of his clever sandwiches. In between the disciples failing to understand (Mark 8:21) and seeing who Jesus is (8:39) we have an account of a blind man regaining his sight. It’s a really unusual place to put the story – right in the middle of two sections about Jesus talking with his disciples. It’s also an unusual miracle – we get a lot more detail here than in e.g. Mark 1:34.

The reason is because Mark wants us to see how the man is given sight: Jesus heals him. Jesus is the only one that can make him see. In the same way, Jesus is the only one that can give understanding.

Questions to ponder

  • If you wanted someone to become a Christian, on what or whom would you rely? Are you sure? Does your attitude and behaviour show that?
  • Think of all of your friends who are not Christians. Who is the least likely to become a Christian? Really?
  • What is your attitude to the friend that remains hostile to the gospel after years of speaking and praying? What should it be?