Summary: This message talks about the importance of being good stewards not only of our monetary and worldly resource, but of the abundant spiritual resources God has given us as well.
Cooking the Books
Have you ever heard the expression Cooking the books? Do you know what that means?
Well, it has nothing to do with cooking or cookbooks, although I suppose that if you stretch the analogy a bit, you might say that it is a bit like Weight Watchers tweaking a recipe for sweet-toothed dieters – like adding black beans to a brownie recipe to make the brownies appear healthy and ease your guilt about eating the entire pan.
Cooking the books is a type of creative accounting where numbers are fudged to make things look better than they are to appease stockholders. You know… drop a few zeros in entries in the expenses column; adding a few to the earnings.
Now, I gotta tell you, I had a very difficult time trying to figure out our text for today. Probably as much or more than an auditor trying to figure out cooked books. Over the past two weeks I wracked my brain over what the meaning of every verse might be. I have looked at the text in different translations; read some commentaries. But that only served to confuse me even more.
Then I figured out that it is not so much the what in this parable that is significant, but the who who heard it. Let me explain…
The first thing we read is that Jesus was talking to his disciples. Or was he? Remember that the Pharisees had been following Him, listening, trying to trip him up and discredit him. They had just heard him tell the stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son or the prodigal son. Stories about the love of God and His intent to tirelessly pursue every sinner, not only the Jews, and bring him or her into the fold. The Pharisees had seen his concern and association with tax collectors and sinners and they thought that it was a disgrace.
And now these same Pharisees were eavesdropping on this teaching moment too.
Now who were the Pharisees? What was their responsibility? Well, they were the keepers and interpreters of Gods law. They were the Stewards of the word. Okay. See where this is going?
And Jesus was telling them in an indirect way that they had been mismanaging the law that was entrusted to them. They had taken 10 commandments and turned them into 600 plus burdensome rules and regulations. Some inflation! They were applying the same principles they used in earthly riches, which they loved, according to Jesus, to their stewardship of spiritual riches.
So Jesus begins with this story about how a hypothetical manager gets himself into trouble with his boss. We do not know what he did or did not do, but we do know that he is going to be fired. And so to ensure that he will be able to get another job with one of the business associates of his boss who, by the way, are in debt to his boss, he cooks the books and has each one pay less than what is owed. The debtors now owe the manager a favor, you see.
The Pharisees were shrewd money managers. They loved money. And so Jesus knew that this story would draw their attention. It is insane for a manager to accept less than what is owed! He should be fired! Yeah, the boss is right in firing him! The nerve! What the manager did was against the rules!
But in his story Jesus says that the boss praises the manager for his shrewdness. The boss lost money! How could he praise the manager? The manager was using the wealth of his boss to make friends. Now that HAD to upset the Pharisees even more! No wonder the text said they scoffed at Jesus!
The text seems to talk about money, physical wealth and worldly things. The love of money is the root of all evil. You cannot serve two masters, God and mammon. Okay, we get that.
But more than that, it is talking about personal responsibility of what God has entrusted in the way of spiritual wealth. The Pharisees were entrusted with the law. They were responsible for teaching, interpreting, and carrying out the law. They were supposed to be the conscience of society. They were judge and jury. So, you can imagine that whenever possible they might take a kick-back or two from those wanting to get away with facing consequences of breaking the law. As a result, the Pharisees were wealthy; very wealthy.
That wealth clouded their perspective. Their primary duty was to help the people understand the law, but more than that, to help them see that they could never follow the law 100 percent; that the law and the prophets all pointed to the gospel of the Kingdom of God which John the Baptist preached about. That Kingdom that everyone now was pushing to get into.