Blessed are those who Hunger for a Markan Sandwich

This post is part of a series on the Gospel of Mark based on classes I am teaching.Bite of Sandwich

Mark, the writer of this gospel we are studying is helping us understand who Jesus is. Throughout the narrative he uses a literary technique called the “Markan Sandwich”. This technique involves starting a story that pulls the reader in, then switches to another story line before concluding the first story line. This is similar to how a movie tells concurrent story lines shifting from one character’s situation then panning out and dropping us into the events being tackled by another character. What makes this technique a “sandwich” is after the author finishes telling us the middle story the shift in the narrative moves immediately back to the story that was started and left unfinished.

One of the most obvious and identified “sandwiches” in the Markan narrative occurs in chapter 5. It looks like this:

  • (A) Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, approaches Jesus and asks Him to heal his daughter (Mark 5:21-24).
    • (B) Jesus encounters a woman suffering from a hemorrhage who has the faith to be healed. (Mark 5:25-34).
  • (A) Jesus continues to the house of Jairus to heal his daughter (Mark 5:35-43)

The bread is the story line captured in (A) that surrounds a central story (B). The central story is the “meat” of the sandwich and often is where Mark’s main emphasis lies within that portion of the narrative. 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.

Do you have the Faith to Follow?

One of the interesting things is that the entire gospel forms a sandwich that looks like this:

  • (A) The gospel of Jesus the Messiah announced by John the Baptist (Mark 1:1).
    • (B) Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29).
  • (A) The centurion recognizes that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

In the first part of the narrative, Mark is building a story line that helps the reader piece together who Jesus is and what the gospel means. We examined the term gospel in the last post. Throughout this first half of the gospel Mark has a “secret Messiah” theme (1:34, 40; 3:12; 4:11-12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26,30).

But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Despite the call to secrecy the miraculous signs that Jesus has been performing affirm that God has sent His Messiah as was foretold to anyone hungry enough to pay attention (mashup of Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1-2;42:6-9).

Then blind eyes will open,
deaf ears will hear.
Then the lame will leap like a deer,
the mute tongue will shout for joy;
He has commissioned me to encourage the poor,
to help the brokenhearted,
to decree the release of captives,
and the freeing of prisoners,
to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor,
Look, my earlier predictive oracles have come to pass;
now I announce new events.
Before they begin to occur, I reveal them to you.

As Mark tells the story of Jesus in the first half he focuses on events within Jesus’ ministry and organizes them in order to highlight both the growing popularity and increasing tension as people grapple with who Jesus is. The narratives also put a spotlight on those who have the Faith to Follow and those that do not. The faithful heroes include the unlikely cast of the leper (1:40-45), the paralytic (2:1-5), the demon possessed man (5:18-20), the bleeding woman (5:25-34), and the Syro-Phoenician woman (7:24-30). Those who lack the Faith to Follow would shock first time readers as this includes Jesus’ family and hometown (3:21; 6:1-6), as well as the religious experts (3:1-6, 22-30; 8:11-13).

The disciples get mixed reviews as they are commended for having the Faith to Follow early on (1:16-20; 2:14; 6:7-13) but demonstrate a lack of understanding and faith during several events including the telling of the parables and teachings (4:13; 7:17-18; 8:14-18), two different storms (4:35-41; 6:45-52), and both of the miraculous feedings (6:30-44; 8:1-10).

All of this is to build the reader’s appetite. Who is this man? The climax of the gospel narrative is the dramatic affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah, King, and Hero promised to the patriarchs of Israel has come (8:29).

The central point of the gospel narrative is that Jesus is the Messiah

After this event the narrative shifts the focus to the mission the Messiah is on. The theme becomes the “suffering Messiah” as Jesus marches toward Jerusalem so that He can establish His kingdom.This section is highlighted by the three predictions that Jesus makes regarding this mission (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34).

Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law,and be killed, and after three days rise again.

As Jesus and the disciples descend down the mountain after the transfiguration, we are given some clues regarding the secrecy in the first part (9:9):

As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The Messiah and King Jesus was supposed  expected to come as a strong, conquering hero. Instead He is a poor carpenter’s son who must die a horrible death. It is this stunning revelation that the kingdom must be built on the foundation of the cross so that the enemies of the kingdom can be truly vanquished and peace established that challenges all who hear this gospel. Yet throughout this narrative the call is clear we are to have a Faith to Follow.

6 thoughts on “Blessed are those who Hunger for a Markan Sandwich

  1. What a great article on the “Markan sandwich” or “intercalation.” It helped me with an assignment for Simeon’s Trust. Thank you.

  2. “(A) The gospel of Jesus the Messiah announced by John the Baptist (Mark 1:1).
    (B) Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29).
    (A) The centurion recognizes that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 15:39).”

    Isn’t this a far stretch?

    And what is the reason for the Messianic secret? More information on that please 🙂

  3. Pingback: Markan sandwiches - eggs and Jesus

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