A closer study of today’s readings reveals separate points of interest. Like, the first reading has been carefully cropped to hide seeming contradictions; while the Gospel leaves out the justification the tenants might have had for keeping the produce.
First Reading. Around the year 600 B.C. when the Jews were putting their sacred legends into writing, they found that members of different tribes had different versions of ancient stories. They found that the descendents of Reuben believed that he had been the one who tried to save Joseph. Our reading has cropped off how Reuben had suggested putting Joseph into the cistern, with the intention of coming back to rescue him, and how while they were off eating, some Midianites, hearing Joseph cry, pulled him up, and carried him off. The part our reading left out told how when Reuben slipped back to rescue Joseph the boy was just gone. To avoid confusion, the preparers of our lectionary gave us only the part of the story with Judah saving Joseph by selling him to Ismaelites for silver.
The Gospel could have been more generous with the tenants who had some justification for holding on to the produce. Jewish law prohibited the growing of two different crops on the same land, but there was one exception to that rule. Since the planter of a vineyard had to wait five years before he could see a vintage, he was permitted to plant other produce between the vines for the first four years. The law was not clear as to who got to keep the produce. So the tenants were not crazy villains when they laid claim to the produce.