On each of these three days leading up to Ash Wednesday our first reading will be taken from the Book of Tobit. It is a non-factual account of a ten tribes of Israelites who were lost to history. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians led them off as slaves, and they were split up, then assimilated into local populations.
Let’s turn from them to the sharecroppers who beat up or murdered the owner of the vintage who sent for his share of the produce. The behavior of those tenants is so awful that you are made to wonder why the owner of the vineyard would have contracted with them in the first place. Was the agency he hired them from called Crooks and Murderers Inc.?
The audience to which Jesus addressed the parable would have had some understanding of the behavior of the tenants. The misunderstanding between the owner and the tenants came from confusion in Jewish Law. The Torah forbade planting two different crops on the same land. So, one could not harvest both grapes and melons from the same plot. However, there was a wrinkle in that law when it came o grapes. Since a vintage could not be picked until four year after the vines were planted, the rabbis allowed farmers to grow melons or other vegetables between the vines for the first four years. The parable would be more understandable if the dispute arose over the division of such produce.
But we should not let such details stand in the way of our feeling deep sympathy for Jesus as he describes the vineyard as the Holy Land, the tenants as the Chosen People, and the Son killed then dragged outside the vineyard as himself in the horrors awaiting him.