A while back Julie and I had a brief discussion about The Gospel of Mark during which I half-heartedly suggested that Mark produced a sort of “Reader’s Digest” gospel later improved upon by Matthew and Luke (Mark is missing “Q” after all) and she begged to differ, maintaining Mark is a concise literary masterpiece. I basically agreed with this assessment, being personally impressed with Mark’s vigorous, gritty account, but I still found it a bit too “pamphlet-like.” Julie also said Mark should be heard rather than read, the process no doubt experienced by the author’s original audience. So I took Julie at her word and recently listened to Mark on cassette in the car. She’s right. And what did I hear this time around? Loud and clear: the disciples are depicted as clueless about who Jesus was and what he was teaching , sometimes humorously so.
Here’s my favorite example of apparent comic relief resulting from such cluelessness in Mark 8 (RSV) :
14: Now [the disciples] had forgotten to bring bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
15: And [Jesus] cautioned them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
16: And they discussed it with one another, saying, “We have no bread.”
17: And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
This scene is right out of a Monty Python movie or Simpson’s episode. Here’s how I imagine it. The disciples sitting in the boat hear Jesus say: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod!” Tilting their heads sideways and arching their eyebrows in an attempt to look shrewd (think John Cleese here), they quickly huddle together to discuss this, at least to them, enigmatic statement, to see if anyone else knows what the heck Jesus is talking about before they commit themselves to a response. Rummaging through their baggage, someone says, “Aha!. We’re out of bread! That’s what he’s talking about.” Another disciple says, “Note to self: never, never, never buy bread from any Pharisee or Herodian.” I don’t know much Greek, but I’m pretty sure verse 17 can be translated as follows: “Then Jesus said: ‘D’OH!’”
Which brings us to the quote in the title to this post. Here, in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, the next scene after this bread incident is the curious healing of a blind man that didn’t “take” at first. Jesus puts saliva in the man’s eyes, lays hands on him, and the man says “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” (Mark 8:24, NRSV) Then Jesus lays hands on him again, the man looks “harder” and he can see. Matthew and Luke  are apparently embarassed by this episode and edit it from their “version” of Mark’s story, thinking, I guess, that Jesus shouldn’t be shown as having insufficient power to heal this man.
While I see no reason to doubt this story happened exactly this way, I think it’s more than that. Authors pick and choose what scenes they include for a reason. This healing narrative is a symbolic expression of how Jesus’ disciples will gradually “see” who Jesus really is. In fact, this miracle is immediately followed by Peter’s initial “seeing” that Jesus is the Messiah (“You are the Messiah,” Mark 8:29 NSRV). That Peter’s insight was blurred is shown in the next scene when Jesus says the Messiah must suffer and die and Peter rebukes Jesus–the Messiah was not expected to suffer and die, but bring the kingdom in power. Jesus responds: “You’re on the wrong side [Get behind me Satan]!” Peter’s unclear perception of Jesus still needs additional healing.
A few verses away Jesus is even transfigured before Peter, emphatically revealing his glory. Yet again, Peter is confused, blabbering about pitching tents or tabernacles at this event. “He did not know what to say,” says the author (Mark 9;6 NRSV). Mark ends his Gospel with Peter and the disciples fleeing Jesus, Peter even denying him. Only the women remain to visit his tomb in Mark’s account. Some of the most ancient manuscripts end earlier than the KJV at 16:8 without any appearance of Jesus from the tomb, although Peter and the other disciples are told to go to Galilee, since “there you will see him ….” (Mark 16:7)
At the end of Mark, the disciples still only vaguely glimpse Jesus, this stem of Jesse, like a tree walking. But they are given assurance that they will yet see him more clearly in Galilee, risen from the dead. Mark likewise seems to suggest we, the disciples who walk in Galilee by reading his gospel, will see him more clearly as well. 
 See, for instance, Mark 6:51-52; 8:21.
 This is one of many such episodes, some of the best of which are found in John. My favorites: (i) Nicodemus thinks Jesus says he must literally assume the fetal position again (John 3:4); (ii) Jesus says Lazarus is “asleep” and the disciples think he’s just taking a nap (John 11:12); and (iii) Jesus says “I have food you don’t know about” and the disciples think someone has been sneaking Jesus food on the side (John 4:33). Other examples from Mark: 5:31; 6:52; 7:18; and 9:2-8..
The twelve aren’t alone in their misunderstanding. Jesus’ family think he’s crazy (Mark 3:21). His hometown considers him a simple carpenter (Mark 6:1-6–I understand the Greek here is more like “day laborer”). The Jewish leaders think he’s possessed of a demon (Mark 3:22). What’s striking here is that until the middle of the Gospel, when the twelve get an inkling of who Jesus was, the only people who have a clue are (i) God (Mark 1:11); (ii) demons (Mark 3:14); and (iii) well, okay Mark. At the end, surprisingly, a centurion sees Jesus for who he is (see Mark 15: 39, RSV): “And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’”
 Luke’s intended improvement of Mark’s Gospel is not only attested in his edits of the Markan “spine,” but also in his intent “to write an orderly account” for Theophilus, suggesting Mark’s prior account in Luke’s eyes was less than “orderly.” (Luke 1:1-3)
 As sources for some of these ideas see the chapters on Mark in R. Brown, Introduction to the New Testament; B. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction; and L. T. Johnson, Writings of the New Testament.