Mark writes with a unique style compared to Jesus’ other biographers. He is usually more concise. Each event he chooses to record fits perfectly into his overall narrative. And he emphasizes ideas and situations with a curious device that many Markan scholars technically call a “sandwich.”
A Markan sandwich consists of a story or account that gets interrupted by something else, then the original story resumes and concludes. The original story serves as the first piece of bread. The interruption is the meat. Then the conclusion of the first story is the other piece of bread. Like a real sandwich, the middle becomes the most important part.
The first of Mark’s sandwiches occurs in chapter two and the healing of the paralytic. When the man is lowered through the roof, Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven. The healing is interrupted by the scribes challenging Jesus’s ability to forgive sins. After dealing with their challenge, he concludes the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). Mark repeats the phrase “He said to the paralytic,” to clue his reader in to the interruption. The sandwich filling is his ability to forgive sins, thus equating him with God.
Another sandwich is found in chapter three, when his family arrives to take him away (3:21). However, before they can do anything, the scribes from Jerusalem show up to pick a fight over his power to cast out demons. After Jesus shows the ridiculousness of their charge and warns them about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, Mark resumes the issue with his family (3:31). Again, the middle of the sandwich emphasizes the deity of Jesus.
Another important sandwich occurs when the ruler of the synagogue, Jairus, urgently begs Jesus to come and heal his daughter who is “at the point of death” (5:23). On the way, Jesus is interrupted by a woman with an issue of blood. She touches his clothing, and Jesus perceives “power had gone out from him” (5:30). After Jesus deals compassionately with the woman, the Jairus story picks up again. Jairus’s daughter dies, and Jesus raises her from the dead (5:35-43). The meat of the sandwich is the amazing faith of the woman who was made whole.
The parable of the sower encloses a discussion of why Jesus teaches in parables (4:1-20). The miracle of the withered hand is interrupted with a Sabbath conflict (3:1-6). The death of John the Baptizer is sandwiched between the sending out of the twelve (6:6-31). Many of Mark’s stories are interrupted to further Mark’s emphasis of Jesus being both Christ and Son of God. Most of the sandwich “meats” focus on Jesus’s power or authority. They serve as hints to Mark’s messianic secret, allowing the reader to be an insider to the great reveal, “You are the Christ” (8:29), and “Truly this man was the Son of God” (15:39).
When we study Mark and come across a sandwich, we should stop and focus on the meat in the middle. Why is Mark emphasizing this section? How does it relate to the overall sandwich? How does it fit into his Messianic secret? Our understanding of Mark will increase as we pay attention to the sandwiches he serves.