the “markan sandwich” is a unique style that the author of The Gospel According to Saint Mark incorporated within his writings. essentially, the stylistic term refers to the way Mark starts to convey a story, stops abruptly to detail another event that, by all outward appearances, seemingly has nothing to do with the first event, and then finishes with the conclusion of the original story. one story is sandwiched within the events of another. a closer look into these passages reveals that, though the persons involved, the locations, and circumstances seem vastly different, Mark has included these stories in a way that brings to light a truth in a way that solidifies the ministry of Jesus. for the purpose of this study, i will be examining Mark 11:12-21.
in Mark 11, Jesus is traveling and is hungry when He sees a fig tree in the distance. upon closer examination of this tree, Jesus finds it bare of any fruit and curses the tree so the disciples could hear it, “no man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever”. it is at this point in our story when the sandwich begins. according to the deadheroesdontsave.com blog, “Mark did not invent this technique as the literary device is more formally known as a chiastic structure, which was commonly used in hebrew, greek, and latin literature and stories.”1 Jesus arrives at the temple and begins to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple and He overturned the tables of the money-changers. Jesus further remarked that the temple should be called a “house of prayer” and condemned them for the sacrilege of this holy place. verse 18 states that fear rose up in the scribes and chief priests and they began to plot ways of killing Him because they heard the message that He spoke and it had an effect on the people. Jesus physically cleansed the temple of distractions and corruption, but the greatest achievement here, in my estimation and what may have enraged the temple officials the most, is the cleansing of the hearts and minds of those who accepted His teaching with astonishment. the next day as Jesus and His disciples were leaving the city, they noticed the cursed fig tree, dried up from the roots. James R. Edwards made this comparison, “The leafy fig tree, with all its promise of fruit, is as deceptive as the temple, which, with all its bustling activity, is really an outlaw’s hideout” (v 17).2 the fig tree that seemed full and vibrant on the outside did not produce any fruit.
we can make a couple of comparisons here; first, one writer said it may not have been the time of the fig and related the fig tree itself as a symbol of Israel and the Old Testament. Jesus could have been demonstrating the end of an era for who would be called chosen. a second comparison can be made to John 15, where Jesus speaks of being the true vine and bearing fruit. He says, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered” (v 6). we can look to the interpolation of the temple in our sandwich in the light of these comparisons. religiosity has taken over in the lives of the chosen people. the New Testament proclaims a withering away of the establishment and a replacement of ordinary people who truly follow after Christ. also, if we were to examine the fruitfulness of the temple upon Jesus’ arrival, we could say that there was not much going on in the spiritual aspect of this house of worship. the temple and all of the greatness that it stood for was withering away in the congregation’s hearts and minds. Phillip J. Long wrote, “Jesus is looking for fruit in a place he has every right to find fruit, but does not find it. In the same way, he came to the nation looking for fruit but did not find any. The religious establishment is a barren fig tree that is about to be cut off.”3 the disciples heard the curse of the fig tree. the scribes and chief priests heard the rebuke of the ceremonial enterprise of the temple. the difference between receiving the spoken word and starting a movement and becoming furious with an establishment challenge is in the fruit.
in conclusion, there are many Markan sandwiches throughout the book of Mark, perhaps as many as seven or eight. each passage gives a glimpse into the virtues of Jesus and His ministry in the cryptic Markan style. MikeB suggests in his blog that the entire gospel of Mark is a Markan sandwich pointing to the legitimacy of Jesus as the Son of God. his evidence for that statement comes from the verses starting with John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord, Peter confessing that Jesus was the Christ, and topping our sandwich off with the proclamation of the centurion. “Truly this man was the Son of God”.1 this was my first exposure to the concept of the Markan Sandwich and, subsequently, the first time i was able to view this gospel with the understanding of why the verses were put together in their current fashion. it is a joy to study the scriptures and an even greater experience when you take into account the period, the historical events and their significance, the writer’s background and writing styles of the day, and the underlying purpose and meaning that Jesus is trying to convey through His Word. in previous years, i visited the nation of Israel and toured a few of the cities that we have always read so much about. i remember how very real the Bible became when i was standing in (above) Peter’s house, when washing my face in the Jordan river, as we stood by the Sea of Galilee, and when we visited the place where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a son. interpreting the scriptures and studying to understand the writer’s intentions is as close to being in the room as when the pen touches paper.
1 MikeB (@AnAgileJedi). “Blessed are those who Hunger for a Markan Sandwich” Dead Heroes Don’t Save blog, Gospel, Theology, https://deadheroesdontsave.com/2013/02/04/markansandwich/, 2013
2 James R. Edwards “Markan Sandwiches: the Significance of Interpolations in Markan Naratives” Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3, 1989, pp. 193-216
3 Phillip J. Long “Cursing the Fig Tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21)” Reading Acts blog, Gospel of Mark, Gospels, Markan Sandwich, Parables, https://readingacts.com/2010/11/03/cursing-the-fig-tree-mark-1112-14-20-21/, 2010