Lots of people have noted the unusual nature of Mark 8:22-26, and many have taken Jesus’ apparent inability to heal in one go as a sign of lower Christology in the Gospel of Mark. Just as a refresher here’s the text:
22 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” (NRSV)
Joel Green in The Way of the Cross provides an alternative interpretation, one with some contextual merit in my opinion. Joel argues that this two stage healing is an intentional act that serves as an object lesson about the disciples’ inability to fully understand who Jesus is.
What separates this story from others in the Gospel is that here the healing occurs in two stages. Althoughthis episode can be added to the others demonstrating Jesus’ healing power, it also functions for Mark as a kind of parable. The key to understanding how this story works for Mark is our recognition of the pervasive use of blindness as a metaphor for spiritual dullness. That is, this man’s blindness symbolizes not only a physical ailment but also a spiritual condition, and not only his own condition but also that of the disciples. The disciples are unable to perceive Jesus’ identity. Having received the “first touch,” this man is able to see somewhat, just as the disciples have some appreciation of Jesus’ nature and the character of his mission after having witnessed his powerful deeds. But theirs is only a limited perception; it is not enough for a full understanding of the character of Jesus and his ministry (pg. 25).
This reading took me by surprise at first, but when you read the passage in context it makes a lot of sense. The story is bracketed by discussion of Jesus’ identity, forming a less obvious Markan sandwich. What do you think?