The variety of macaroni and cheese options seems endless. For example, there is the kind that you can nuke, eat quickly and walk away wondering what just happened. It’s satisfying, but only for the moment it takes to scrape the carton with a spoon and bring it to your mouth. It’s a momentary fix. Not a meal to fuel the body, it exists for the moment as something to consume before getting on with life.
Then, there is the mother lode of macaroni and cheese. We’ve all had it. It’s the typical restaurant variety with 7 exotic cheeses, butter, maybe and egg or two, cream, more butter in the brioche crumbs on top and – drum roll please – bacon. It tastes amazing, but you quickly realize that it is going to stay with you in an uncomfortable way. It’s there for hours…days…and nothing seems to make it go away. Heartburn, bloat, guilt and your skinny jeans tear at your conscience. Even a hefty workout doesn’t negate it’s effects. It just hangs around as a stubborn reminder that you might not want mac and cheese ever again when in all actuality it’s not the macaroni and cheese that got to you. It’s all the stuff that was added to it.
There is basic mac and cheese, made with, well…macaroni and cheese. This variety might have a little milk in it, but it’s just as good without it. It’s the kind that makes you smile as it satisfies your craving for comfort food as well as your appetite. It’s simply enough to make a tough day better. It reminds you of home, family, belonging and feeling loved. It leaves you looking forward to having it again…and again…and again…
And so it is with reading scripture.
Sometimes we read scripture quickly. You know, just to get it done. It might be for a season during the church year, or for an event like confirmation or baptism. Most likely it’s Sunday morning in worship and it’s actually read by someone else. Occasionally we might follow along, if there is a Bible in the seat pocket and the passage is relatively easy to find. Although, if the reading is from Habakkuk, Obadiah or Haggai, we might choose to just listen least we spend the entire time of the reading looking for wherever it is that those little known prophets hang out in the Bible. It’s nice, it’s there and we got our dose for the week. It doesn’t really stay with us, but it was good to hear before we go on with the day.
Anyone who has hung out in a church for very long has heard the ramped up version of scripture and interpretation. This has to do with writing styles, commentaries, Bible translations, theological perspectives and doctrinal influence. You know, the stuff that is added to scripture so we know what it should really mean. The result can lead us to think that Biblical interpretation is confusing, like something we would never try to do at home – so we leave it to the professionals. Alternatively, it can make scripture dangerously simple – “when Paul says…he means…”. Oh, and by the way, that means for all time. Unfortunately, the standard interpretation and meanings can be twisted and warped as we relate the stories from one generation to the next. I mean, if our original restaurant mac and cheese recipe was 2000 years old, or older, it might tell us to milk the cow – or goat – as a first step. While we are waiting for the milk to become cheese, we might think about grinding wheat into a powder fine enough to make our desired pasta, which, by the way did not exist in Paul’s time. Then there is the pig and processing the bacon. All of which would make us head to some other eatery least we spend the better part of a year waiting for our mac and cheese. We would never actually try to make it ourselves! It would be too overwhelming, as would listening to a chef explain just how it was prepared. What the ancient chef accepted as something everyone just understood, would seem like hieroglyphics to us today. It’s too much trouble and we simply don’t have the time.
So, what good is scripture? Why should we even try to read it? What if we get it wrong? Worse yet, what if traditional interpretations seem too overwhelming or like they just don’t apply to our lives today? I mean, is there even a place for this ancient text in our 21st Century lives?
In case you don’t yet know, I absolutely love macaroni and cheese. I play with a basic recipe by changing out elbow macaroni for rotini or shells. Although american cheese is a favorite in our house, I will occasionally use cheddar if that’s what is on hand. Salt is good, as is a sprinkle of paprika or dry mustard and some pepper. But, when it comes out of the pot and is put in the bowl, it is typically just macaroni and cheese. Two major ingredients that really can’t be improved upon.
Scripture is kind of like that, too. These amazing narratives detail how humanity and the Divine rub together as those who came before us share their stories about navigating this crazy thing called life. The basic plot repeats itself we read tale after tale where God provides love and humanity responds to that love. Some things, like the 10 Commandments, tell us what that response should look like – love God; don’t lie, cheat, steal, kill or covet. Jesus gave us his living example of how we can live life as fully as God created us to live it. Our response to God’s love is to love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt 22: 37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:28; Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18) It’s the golden rule of treating someone else as we would want to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) It’s recognizing that God is the creator and all of creation is loved by God. When we begin to experience the depth of God’s love for us we cannot deny our individual responsibility and natural tendency to care for those in need.
As we continue to read the prose, poetry, and songs of scripture within the framework of God’s love for humanity and humanity’s response to that love, we find ourselves deep within stories about who we are and Whose we are. We learn what it means to live with God in this amazing world and find comfort in knowing the ancients’ struggles were like ours. We hear their voices telling us, from the perspective of their era and culture, what it looks like to trust God as if we truly believe in God’s love. It is our challenge to take that information and keep it new and fresh and alive so that we continue to live knowing that God’s plan and creation were as God saw them…good, very good.
Kind of like the simple, homemade mac and cheese…