(A note to our readers: You may have experienced a bit of erratic behavior in this blog of late. It is “supposed” to post at 6 am each day, but lately, they’ve been frequently late. I write these often days in advance and they are supposed to post automatically. For some reason that hasn’t been working. Beginning January 1, we will use another blog platform and it should work better. Until then, please bear with us.)
How about a sandwich?
Not a real one, but a literary one.
Mark often uses what scholars call a “sandwich technique” in his presentation. He begins telling a story, interrupts it with another totally different one, and then returns to his original one. We’ve seen several of these. In chapter three, Jesus’ family goes to take charge of him because they think he’s insane. That story is interrupted with the story of the divided house and then Mark returns to the story of Jesus’ family (see also 4:1–20; 5:21–43; 6:7–30).
The point in the sandwich is that the mid-part, the meat so to speak, is supposed to illuminate the “bread” part.
In chapter eleven, Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing figs. Then, Jesus clears the temple, and Mark returns to the story of the fig tree.
The first thing we have to address is why Jesus cursed the fig tree for not having figs when, as Mark plainly tells us, it was not the season for figs! But in season or not, the fig tree had leaves which normally come after the figs. In other words, season or not, there was promise without performance. When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, what stirs him up is likewise the “promise without performance” issue. The temple held the promise of relationship with God. But all that was going on there was worldliness feeding separation from God.
If we called it what it is, and we seldom use the word today, we’d call it “hypocrisy.”
But the story takes a sudden twist at the end: Jesus talks about prayer, and that’s the lesson. Disciples often talk a good game, but there is little praying going on in their lives, and in even shorter supply is confidence in God. Prayer becomes simply an exercise to make us feel holy without faith.
For God’s people, prayer is powerful! We must pray. But as much as pray, we must believe God hears us, is in charge, and will answer. If we don’t believe that, we’ll do more posturing than praying and find ourselves under Jesus’ sure condemnation.